Go The Distance: How starting pitchers have changed

Matt Harvey is an example of a new age starter who has been micro managed but still had a season ending injury.

Matt Harvey is an example of a new age starter who has been micro managed but still had a season ending injury.

Today, Jacob deGrom tossed a one-hit complete game shutout in a Mets’ 5-0 win over the Phillies. During the post game on WWOR Radio, the Mets broadcaster noted that it was deGrom’s first complete game shutout at any level.

He never had one in high school, college or the minor leagues. It took until Year 3 at age 28 for deGrom to finally go the distance. He did it on 105 pitches with 67 for strikes. The only hit he allowed was ironically to counterpart Zach Eflin, who singled to center in the the third. The third-year Mets starter walked one and fanned seven in improving to 6-4 lowering his earned-run-average to 2.38. He even got a hit and came around to score on an RBI double from Jose Reyes.

DeGrom’s one-hit shutout is the first for the Mets since Matt Harvey did it on May 7, 2013 against the White Sox. In that one, Harvey fanned 12. It’s hard to believe deGrom never tossed a complete game of any kind before. It speaks to how different baseball is. The game has changed. Starting pitchers are micromanaged start to start due to pitch counts. Innings are carefully managed. Whether it’s strategically trying to win games by relying on bullpens or overall with innings limits.

Gone are the days of starters with rubber arms going a full nine consistently. Currently, San Francisco’s Johnny Cueto leads the majors with four complete games. Not surprisingly, teammate Madison Bumgarner is tied for second with three. Four other starters have three including injured Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw. The best pitcher in baseball. He remains on disabled list with a back injury. Hopefully, the remarkable southpaw will be back in August for the stretch drive. He was having an amazing season. Kershaw led the majors in ERA (1.79), WHIP (0.727), shutouts (3) and still ranks fourth in strikeouts (145).

Last year, the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta won the NL Cy Young winning 22 games with a 1.77 ERA and 236 K’s in 229 innings. In 33 starts, he tied for the league lead in complete games (4), also shared by Kershaw, Bumgarner and Max Scherzer. Runner-up Zach Greinke only had one complete game despite going 19-3 with a major league best 1.66 ERA with 200 K’s in 222.2 innings.

In the glory days, it was more common for starters to go the full nine. In 1968, both Bob Gibson and Denny McLain each swept the Cy Young and MVP in the NL and AL. They each had 28 complete games with the remarkable Gibson tossing 13 shutouts. The year of the pitcher saw a dominant Gibson go 22-9 with a jaw dropping 1.12 ERA in 34 starts. How did he ever lose? McLain was no slouch that year winning 31 games with a 1.96 ERA while tossing 336 innings. Like most pitchers during the golden era, each benefited from the raised mound. This article discusses the most successful pitchers of the raised mound era.

In ’69, the mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10. Interestingly, the strike zone also was adjusted. A raised mound gave pitchers an advantage due to pitching downhill. It produced the lowest scoring season in modern baseball. Runs increased in ’69.

“The run-scoring environment in 1969 was much greater than it was in 1968, with teams averaging 0.65 more runs per game (going from 3.42 to 4.07), an increase of greater than 19 percent,” George Resor wrote in a 2014 piece entitled, The Height of the Hill.

Complete games didn’t disappear following the mound changing. While hitting improved, there were still dominant pitchers who were trusted to go the distance. As the yearly league leaders in complete games on Baseball Reference shows, great pitchers such as Steve Carlton, Ron Guidry, Catfish Hunter, Fergie Jenkins, Phil Niekro and Gaylord Perry were able to reach the 20’s or even 30 complete games.

As the role of the closer and relief pitchers increased, starters weren’t as frequently asked to go the full nine. In 1985, Bert Blyleven led the majors with 24 complete games including five shutouts. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011. In his dominant ’85 as a 20-year old in which he went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA, Dwight Gooden led the NL with 16. The final time a pitcher hit 20 was the following season with Fernando Valenzuela in ’86 with the Dodgers. He finished second in the NL Cy Young losing out to Mike Scott.

These days, if a starter reaches eight or nine complete games, it’s a great accomplishment. The days of the ace hitting double digits are gone. James Shields led the AL with 11 in 2011 as a Tampa Ray. Five years later, he’s a shell of himself struggling with a 6.43 ERA after the Padres dealt him to the White Sox. Is it due to the all the innings he threw up to age 33? Who knows. He’s 34 and looks done. In 2011, he threw a career high 249.1 innings. The next three seasons, he averaged 227-plus with the Rays and Royals. Do all the innings thrown catch up? In some cases, yes. Or is it just a veteran pitcher declining? The answer is probably both.

There are two schools of thought on limiting young starters. With pitch counts in some cases not exceeding 105-110, they run out of gas because they’re not used to going longer. We saw it with Matt Harvey during last year’s critical Game 5 of the World Series. Harvey had come back from Tommy John surgery last season. After missing the entire 2014, he went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA in 29 starts. The Dark Knight wound up throwing 189.1 innings and striking out 188. Both he and agent Scott Boras agreed that his total innings should be limited due to the long-term impact.

Now 27, Harvey has yet to test free agency. He is making $4.325 million this season. Making money and long-term health for a successful career are primary focuses. So, it’s not surprising there was controversy surrounding Harvey in September of last year. He was almost shut down receiving negative press and fanfare when the whole innings controversy came out. Many questioned his motivation. Was he putting himself before a team trying to win a championship? The negative PR forced Harvey to change his tune. He didn’t want to disappoint his teammates or fans. He would pitch in October.

Harvey dominated the Cubs in a win fanning nine in seven-plus. The Mets swept to win the pennant and advance to their first World Series since 2000. It was Harvey’s second start in the Series that became the focus. Throwing one of his best games, he had the Royals off balance. For eight innings, he gave up virtually nothing against one of the toughest lineups. When approached by skipper Terry Collins about bringing in closer Jeurys Familia for the ninth, he emphatically told Collins, “No way. I’m not coming out.”

It was the kind of bravery you’d expect from a demanding pitcher who wanted to be the man. Harvey wanted the ball. He wanted to finish what he started. With the Mets nursing a 2-0 lead entering the ninth, Harvey came out to loud cheers from the capacity Citi Field crowd. But a walk to Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer run-scoring double cut the lead to one with no out, forcing Collins to get Harvey. Familia got the infield grounder for a 5-3 putout with Cain on third and one out. But as soon as David Wright threw across the diamond, Cain took off for the plate and scored the tying run thanks to Lucas Duda’s errant throw. The Royals would win the world championship with a five-run 12th.

Harvey’s final line:

8 IP 2 R 2 ER 2 BB 9 K 111 pitches 76 strikes

Of course, so many critics second guessed leaving Harvey in. In this town, everyone’s an expert. It is worth noting that he didn’t have a complete game in 2015. In fact, he only had one for his career. The aforementioned one-hit shutout in 2013. The most innings he went were eight-plus against the Yankees coming within an out of a complete game. The Mets won 8-2 on Apr. 25. He also went eight three other times. Only once after May.

In case you’re wondering about pitch counts, Harvey threw at least 100 pitches or more 15 times including a season high 115 in a 1-0 loss to Atlanta. However, his pitch count decreased in September going from 101 to 74, 77 and then back up to 97 and 91. In Game 1 of the World Series, Harvey threw 80 pitches over six innings permitting three earned and a home run in a no decision. Coincidentally, the Mets lost that game in 14 innings. Game 5 was his game to win or lose. He made that abundantly clear. It wasn’t to be.

Fast forward a year later and Harvey is done for the season with symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome resulting in season-ending surgery. Please keep in mind this is unrelated to his arm. It’s a vascular condition that can affect long-term health. Other pitchers have had the procedure done and returned.

Harvey’s 2016 was disappointing. He was 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA in 17 starts. Predictably, ESPN Stats & Info had this tweet:

The question is was Harvey’s bad year due to the total number of innings he threw last year. That can’t be explained entirely. Especially with him undergoing surgery to fix the vascular issue with thoracic outlet syndrome symptoms. What kind of pitcher will Harvey be when he returns in 2017? He’ll turn 28 before next season. He won’t be a free agent until 2019. His career could be on the line.

If you’re curious, Noah Syndergaard doesn’t have a complete game since entering the majors last year. For his whole career including minors, he has totaled one with Triple-AAA Las Vegas last year. A complete game shutout. After throwing 150 innings during the 2015 regular season, he added another 19 in the postseason. If you include the 29.2 innings with Las Vegas, he totaled 198.2 between minors and majors. So far in Year 2, he has 105.2 with a 9-4 mark, 2.56 ERA with 18 walks and 128 K’s. Of all the Mets young starters, he has the highest upside.

As we continue to follow young pitchers such as deGrom, Harvey and Syndergaard, should everything be under a microscope? It’s this way due to what became of Cubs’ aces Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. Wood took the NL by storm in ’98 winning 13 games for the Cubs while striking out 233 over 166.2 innings to win Rookie of the Year. His hard throwing style featuring a lethal fastball and huge curve drew comparisons to fellow Texan Roger Clemens. After missing the entire ’99 due to Tommy John surgery, Wood returned to prominence. He continuing to strike out batters at a high rate, he fanned 266 in 211 innings during ’03. He was also wild hitting 21 batters.

The ’03 Cubs were special thanks to Wood and Prior, who at 22 went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA while walking 50 and striking out 245 in 211.1 innings to finish third for the Cy Young. After the Cubs lost in excruciating fashion to the Marlins in the NLCS, Prior never pitched a full season ever again. Both Wood and Prior threw a lot of pitches per start under manager Dusty Baker. He received heavy criticism for ruining both.

Prior was one of those rare talents who could’ve had a long distinguished major league career winning multiple Cy Youngs while challenging records. He never pitched in the major leagues after 25. Reconstructive Tommy John surgery, an Achilles tendon injury and structural damage to his right shoulder were too much to overcome. He attempted several comebacks with several teams including the Yankees. But after being released by the Reds in 2013, he retired following the season.

As for Wood, eventually he transitioned from a starter to reliever- having success with the Cubs saving 34 games in ’08 to make the All-Star team. He was an effective late game reliever for a few more years. That included a brief stint with the Yankees as a rental in 2010 where he pitched to a 0.69 ERA. After returning to the Cubs in 2011 and having one more good season, he called it quits in May 2012 due to a poor start. At least Wood had a successful 14-year career as both a starter and reliever. He averaged over 10’s per inning for his career totaling 1,582 in 1,380 innings.

It’s unfortunate that Prior didn’t last longer. He had such great mechanics. But was plagued by arm and shoulder injuries. It’s unfair to blame Baker for everything. Some pitchers aren’t built to last. Injuries to pitchers are part of baseball. It’s not always due to how many pitches or innings thrown. At any moment, a pitcher can blow out their arm or get hit by a line drive that alters their career. That’s the risk they take. There are also extreme cases like Gooden, who are derailed by substance abuse.

Pitching remains an art. When you can see a Picasso like Kershaw every fifth day, appreciate it. As far as starters finishing what they started, it’s rare these days. There aren’t many horses left. C.C. Sabathia had a rubber arm for the Brewers as a rental once tossing seven complete games including three shutouts in 17 starts after coming over from the Indians. He got a huge contract from the Yankees helping them win a record 27th world championship in ’09. Though he isn’t the same anymore, you can’t call that signing anything but a success.

Pitchers age. There aren’t as many shortcuts with performance enhancers illegal. After he swept the Cy and MVP in 2011, Justin Verlander looked like he would dominate well into his mid-30’s. But following another big year at 30 in 2012, he’s a shadow of what he used to be. He makes $28 million thru 2019 with a vesting $22 million option guaranteed if he finishes in the top 5 for AL Cy Young. There’s a better chance of me dating Rihanna.

It just goes to show you what happens. With complete games almost extinct, it’s kind of sad. Most games are managed by the book with skippers like Joe Girardi mixing and matching. A good pen is important. Mariano Rivera was a staple to their success. In some years, he could’ve won the Cy Young if baseball writers weren’t so biased. The recent Royals’ success based on Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis has influenced the Yankees. They acquired Aroldis Chapman from the Reds to close games- leaving flame throwers Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller to pitch the seventh and eighth innings. It hasn’t translated due to inconsistent starting pitching and anemic hitting.

At times, you do need your ace to give the pen nights off. That’s what Kershaw and Bumgarner do for their teams. They’re exceptions to the rule. Bumgarner proved a dominant ace can beat a great team coming out of the pen for the save to shutdown the Royals in a memorable Game 7 won by the Giants two years ago. He also won two games as a starter in that World Series.

The bottom line is there are different ways to win. Call me old school. I still prefer seeing a great starter finish what he started. Go the distance.

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Random Thoughts: The ESPY’s, Yankees, delusional Mets fans, MVP races, etc.

LeBron James blocks Stephen Curry sending a message in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. AP Photo courtesy Getty Images Licensing Agreement www.nydailynews.com

LeBron James blocks Stephen Curry sending a message in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
AP Photo courtesy Getty Images Licensing Agreement
www.nydailynews.com

It’s another hot humid summer July day in New York City. I’m tired because I didn’t sleep due to no air conditioning last night. Thank god we got it reinstalled. Phew. I’m just gonna give some random thoughts on stuff. In no particular order:

1.John Cena wasn’t half bad hosting the ESPY’s. He even poked fun of LeBron James going from a good guy to a bad guy back to a good guy again by coming home and finally delivering a championship to Cleveland, ending a 52-year drought. I liked the transition from they need a new bad guy and it cued to a photo of Kevin Durant in a Warriors jersey, which got a chuckle from Stephen Curry. I also loved Cena’s final joke about the Irish pulling out of Rio. And he deadpanned:

“They never pull out.” 😉

2.Maybe Cena is right. Maybe sports are going the route of the WWE. Especially given the faces and heel turns. His best one liner had to be the one after he paid tribute to now retired stars Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant. He then went on to note that while their final games were memorable with Peyton riding off into the sunset and Kobe scoring 60, neither game had ‘much passing,’ which drew a smile from Manning.

3.In general, I don’t watch award shows. For some reason, I made this one an exception. I really liked the strong message Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and James sent about the divide in our country. There’s too much hate and way too many generalizations about African Americans and policemen. There needs be more common sense applied. Treat each other right and be respectful. Spread a message of love, peace and positives.

4.Seeing Craig Sager honored for the Jimmy V Perseverance Award due to his courageous fight against leukemia was special. His speech was powerful and so positive. He looked great. He’s easily one of the most beloved broadcasters. He’s always been so cool. It’s not just about his flamboyant outfits covering the NBA for TNT over three decades. It’s about his attitude. The way he carries himself is amazing. He’s truly inspiring. That speech was excellent. I believe we’ll see him on the sidelines next season. Maybe that’s what needs to be said.

B-E-L-I-E-V-E

5.I feel like the ESPY’s have become bigger than sports. It’s about recognizing truly courageous people. Stories of courage like Zaevion Dobson. A 15-year old high school football player who jumped in front of gunfire to save his Mom and older brother. It’s so sad that Dobson lost his life due to shots being fired for no reason. He sounds like a wonderful young man who had a bright future. Even sadder, his Mom revealed that his 12-year old cousin also was shot and killed after coming back from a basketball game. These kind of stories are a humbling reminder of how deadly guns can be in urban communities. Something needs to be done. I wonder what can. It almost always involves drugs and gang wars. If they tightened gun control, would it prevent such senseless tragedies? I wish I knew the answer.

6.I was so floored by how calm and well spoken Mrs. Dobson was along with her family. I can’t imagine losing someone that young. The pain they’ll have to live with the rest of their lives.

7.As for the awards, it was mostly an ode to LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers for finally getting the monkey off their back. James won Athlete Of The Year and the Cavs got Best Team. Their comeback against the 73-win Warriors was inspiring. I can’t disagree with the selection.

8.However, the Kansas City Royals got no love. How about that ridiculous eighth inning comeback at Houston in Game 4 of the ALDS? Hell-o! I get that it happened last year. But come on. Those guys just wouldn’t die. The Royal Crown basically got ignored. They weren’t the only team.

9.During the broadcast, I don’t think anyone ever referenced the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup. Jeez. I get that ESPN doesn’t cover the NHL. But they are broadcasting the World Cup this Fall. Would it hurt to at least mention the Pens, who dug deep to come back and beat the Lightning before winning in six over Team Martin Jones the Sharks? Sidney Crosby won the Conn Smythe. It really should stand for Con because he wasn’t even his team’s most consistent playoff performer. Bitter and biased Canadian media who just couldn’t admit Phil Kessel deserved it. No wonder Toronto hasn’t won a Cup since 1967.

10.It would’ve been nice if Novak Djokovic was up for Best Athlete. I guess because he’s Serbian and isn’t represented by Nike like other tennis stars, he doesn’t count. And Serena Williams only got a brief mention from Cena on her tying Steffi Graf for the most grand slams (22) after winning Wimbledon. I don’t think she was there.

11.At the end of the day, the ESPY’s are mostly about the two sports ABC/Disney cares about most. The NBA and NFL. When you have Aaron Rodgers winning Play of The Year for the hail mary against the Lions which beat out Kris Jenkins’ buzzer beater that won the national championship for Villanova, it speaks volumes. That was the signature moment of 2016. It took a well executed play with Ryan Arcidiacono dribbling and kicking for a wide open Jenkins, who drained a 3-pointer cold blooded at the buzzer to stun North Carolina. Don’t forget Marcus Paige’s equally money off balance trey in which he double clutched in mid-air and tied the game. Those two plays consecutively were amazing.

12.If you really think about it, LeBron’s ridiculous block pinning Andre Iguodala’s potential game-winning lay-up was better than Rodgers’ hail mary. You don’t have to think twice. James’ clutch defensive play led to Kyrie Irving’s championship-clinching three over Curry. Not to take away from the athleticism and determination Rodgers showed on the hail mary that beat the Lions. But it ranks third behind LeBron’s block and Jenkins’ three at the buzzer to win the national title for the Wildcats. That shot cost my friend and brother lots of money. They had Carolina and the over. If it had gone to overtime and the Tar Heels prevailed, they would’ve won big. Crazy.

13.I just can’t understand what more J.J. Watt could’ve wanted in a woman than the hot and flirtatious Lindsey Vonn.

14.Russell Wilson doesn’t have to win anything else in the NFL. He already won at life marrying Ciara. Ciara makes Beyonce look average.

15.Are we at the point yet where that tool Randy Levine still needs convincing that the Yankees must sell before the July 31 deadline? I wish someone would send him on a one-way trip to Siberia.

16.I’ve said it all along. Michael Pineda just doesn’t have the head to be a consistent successful starting pitcher. BP Pineda has the stuff. But he doesn’t execute pitches. So, you get games like last night where he served up three home runs in a frustrating 5-3 loss to the Red Sox at home. The Yankee bats again went silent with only two runs against a Boston starter who had over a 7.00 ERA. Tone setter, much?

17.At least Brian Cashman can say he won the trade by getting Pineda and Vicente Campos for Jesus Montero. The 23-year old Campos has rebounded nicely. He’s currently pitching for Double-AA Trenton with a 4-1 record, 2.65 ERA over eight starts with 44 K’s in 51 innings. Maybe there’s still hope. As for Pineda, I wouldn’t count on it.

18.Cashman has done well recently using players who had good major league debuts. He correctly used Montero to acquire Pineda and Campos. Cashman also only parted with Shane Greene for starting shortstop Didi Gregorius. Gregorius has been the Yankees’ best position player. The 26-year old is not only a superb defensive shortstop but his offense gives Yankee fans something to get excited about. Didi is .295 with 11 homers and 41 RBI’s while hitting seventh in the order. He could’ve been an All-Star.

19.Is there a reason Gregorius doesn’t bat higher? I can’t think of any. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira barely hitting. A year after being factors in a wildcard, they’ve shown their age with injuries and inconsistency part of the reason the Yanks find themselves two under .500. The last time they were this late in the season and under .500 was 1995. That team had character and better talent, rallying around Don Mattingly to make the playoffs.

20.I’ll never understand the whiny Mets fan who’s angry at Daniel Murphy for having a career year with the Nationals. Following a great postseason, the Mets made it perfectly clear they didn’t want the second baseman back- preferring to go in a different direction. So what if Murphy is killing the Mets with over a .400 average, seven dingers and 21 RBI’s. After how even the Mets broadcasters talked bad- most notably Gary Cohen– it was obvious that it came from management. A PR smear campaign. Typical of how things are run these days. We saw this with the Rangers a couple of years ago when they purposely leaked what Ryan Callahan wanted before trading him for Martin St. Louis. Turn the fans against a player they loved and supported. Classy, eh.

21.Here’s why I don’t get the Mets fan who calls up the radio and complains over Murphy. His replacement Neil Walker has 16 home runs and 40 knocked in. Sandy Alderson stole him for Jon Niese. It’s not like the Amazin’s aren’t getting consistent production from Walker, who’s better in the field than Murphy. Also, the signing of Asdrubal Cabrera was excellent. The Mets’ middle infield has improved from last year. Cabrera also is a lot better offensively than Ruben Tejada, who now is playing third for the Giants after a failed stint with the Cardinals. Sometimes, fans will find any reason to complain.

22.So, ESPN has this promo for Sunday Night Baseball featuring the Red Sox and Yankees in tomorrow night’s series finale. In it, David Ortiz is prominently featured. Big Papi is having a final season for the ages. He’s always destroyed the Yankees. In the ad, the end of it shows a pic of Ortiz with a message that says Own The Bronx. Could they be any more obvious? Yes. Ortiz has owned the Yanks. But it does come off a little arrogant. It’s bad enough the Red Sox have a much better team than the Yankees. But do they have to rub our faces in it?

23.If Boston had better starting pitching, they would be a legit contender. That lineup is scary. Xander Boegarts. Mookie Betts. Jackie Bradley, Jr. Travis Shaw. Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. Hanley Ramirez too even though he’s so not the player I thought he would be. Once part of a deal for Josh Beckett, Ramirez looked like he’d have a long distinguished All-Star career at short or third with the Marlins. Instead, he failed at left field in Year 1 back in Beantown and now is playing first and has lost his power. Wasted talent.

24.AL MVP Race:

A.Jose Altuve, Astros

B.Manny Machado, Orioles

C.Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays

25.If you’re wondering, Mike Trout is in the top 5. Unfortunately, he plays in obscurity on a dreadful Angels club. Francisco Lindor is the best kept secret in baseball. The Indians shortstop is in the conversation.

26.NL MVP Race:

A.Daniel Murphy, Nationals because of course

B.Kris Bryant, Cubs

C.Brandon Crawford, Giants doesn’t get much recognition

27.Nolan Arenado is right there but like Trout, plays for a mediocre team in Colorado. He’d have to blow away the competition to win.

28.When I’m getting excited for Summer League, that’s depressing. D’Angelo Russell gave his best Kobe impersonation in the second half of a Lakers’ loss to the Cavs. Not a ringing endorsement. What if Jordan McRae makes the Cavs stronger? Kay Felder also looked good as did former Johnnie Sir Dominic Pointer. I always gotta support my boys.

29.I saw that Jamie Benn got a new contract with the Stars. It’s for eight years, $76 million. Yes, that’s over nine million per year. But the Dallas captain is one of the top three stars in the NHL. Compared to other superstars, that’s actually a bargain. I hope one day he leads the Stars to a Cup. He’s one of my favorite players. A complete hockey player in every sense.

30.The way things are going for them, would the Rangers ever consider exploring a trade for Henrik Lundqvist? Even with GM Jeff Gorton doing a solid job improving the fourth line and penalty kill, things aren’t exactly looking up. At best, they’re third in the Metro Division behind the Pens and Caps. That’s glass half full. At worst, they’re on the fringe fighting it out with the improved Devils for the wildcard.

31.I’ll just quote good buddy Brian Sanborn of our Hard Hits Network show again:

“The Oilers traded Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson AND…      “

32.I still have that Dwight Gooden no-hitter scorecard saved in the attic with the pencil. One of my favorite moments at the House That Ruth Built.

33.Another Sanbornism:

“Tell me why Mattingly isn’t in the Hall of Fame while Kirby Puckett is.”

If you answer the lame reply that dope Bill Madden gave about championships, you lose.

Puckett

.318 career average

207 HR

1085 RBI

134 SB

2304 hits

1783 games

1 batting title (.339 in 1989)

12 seasons

3 top 3 MVP finishes

6 Gold Gloves

2 World Championships (’87, ’91)

Mattingly

.307 career average

222 HR

1099 RBI

2153 hits

1785 games

1 batting title (.343 in 1984)

1 MVP (.324-35-145 in 1985)

14 seasons

2 other top 5 MVP finishes

9 Gold Gloves

34.If you want to see an unreal season, go look up Rickey Henderson’s ’85 with the Yankees. Best leadoff hitter and one of the greatest outfielders ever.

35.Kinda feel for Matt Harvey. Pitchers are so fragile. Who knows if the Dark Knight will ever be the same?

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Reviewing the ESPN 30 For 30 on Gooden and Strawberry

Darryl and Doc

A young Mets duo of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden dominated the 80’s.

On Thursday night, ESPN finally aired the 30 For 30 documentary on Dwight “Doc” Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. Appropriately entitled Doc and Darryl, they set the scene with the two former Mets meeting at a popular diner in Queens not far from where they starred during the 80’s at Shea Stadium in Flushing. Astonishingly, the two corner pieces of the 1986 Mets World Championship thirty years ago haven’t stayed in close touch.

Both were can’t miss superstars who brought the Amazin’s back to relevancy for a decade. Strawberry and Gooden were each first round picks two years apart. Strawberry taken first overall in the 1980 MLB Draft out of Crenshaw High School from Los Angeles and Gooden taken first overall in the 1982 Draft from Hillsborough HS in Tampa.

Favorably compared to Cooperstown legend Ted Williams due to his sweet swing, Strawberry was a mammoth at the plate standing 6-6, 190 pounds. A left-handed slugger who played right field, he became a star right away. Coming up in ’83, Strawberry wowed baseball with his amazing power. As opponents who faced him would put it, he was intimidating. He hit 26 home runs, drove in 74 and stole 19 bases to win the National League Rookie of The Year (ROY).

It was just the beginning. For all eight seasons as a New York Met, Strawberry hit at least 26 homers while driving in over 100 twice. Between ’83-88, he stole at least 19 bases or better. That included five consecutive years of 26 or more. He would also become only the eighth member of the 30/30 Club by age 25 in when he hit 39 dingers and stole a career best 36 bases in 1987. Three times, he went over 30 home runs slugging 39 in both ’87 and ’88 and 37 in ’90.

Strawberry was a seven-time All-Star from ’84-90. Unfortunately, he made the biggest mistake of his career leaving New York to return home to Los Angeles where he signed as a free agent with the Dodgers, agreeing on a five-year contract worth $22.5 million. It made him the second highest paid baseball star with only Jose Canseco earning more ($23.5 million).

His time back home was a nightmare. Already an alcoholic who had tried cocaine, he became hooked on crack cocaine. Following an All-Star season in 1991 that saw him hit 28 homers with 99 RBI’s in Dodger blue, Strawberry fell apart. A victim of alcohol and drug addiction, he only played 75 total games over the next two years. The Dodgers released him in ’94. He signed with the rival Giants but only played sparingly.

Suspended for cocaine at the start of ’95, he was given an opportunity from Yankee boss George Steinbrenner. But manager Buck Showalter hardly used him in the Yankees’ return to the postseason. Strawberry would return to the Bronx Bombers following a stint with the Saint Paul Saints in the Northern League. Even at 34 having hardly gotten many major league at bats since his first year as a Dodger, he became a key contributor to the ’96 World Champion Yankees under Joe Torre. He would hit three long balls in the ALCS win over the Orioles, including a majestic home run at Camden Yards that headed for the warehouse.

Amazingly, a 36-year old Strawberry had one last big season in ’98. For the first time since ’91, he appeared in over 100 games getting into 101. In 345 at bats, he slugged 24 homers and drove in 57. That same year, he was dealt another blow when he was diagnosed with colon cancer cutting short his ’98 season. To his credit, he came back with the Yankees for one final year in ’99. At 37, he hit .327 with three dingers and six RBI’s in 24 games. Part of the ’99 roster that saw the Yankees repeat as world champs, he hit two more home runs in October to finish his career with three World Series.

Even at the end, he was able to finish with 335 home runs and reach 1,000 RBI’s in a 17-year roller coaster of a career. Of course, he would get into frequent trouble with the law due to his substance abuse. Something he’s ashamed of. It was during Doc and Darryl that he spoke openly about his off field struggles.

“You have to change your ways. Until you change your ways, you will struggle,” a poignant Strawberry said at the diner during the documentary.

Now a born again Christian who is an ordained minister, Strawberry has somehow survived. Now 54, he looks great. He may as well have been summing up life. Whether it’s battling addiction or dealing with anxiety or depression, we all deal with obstacles we must overcome. Gooden also shared an interesting thought on his struggle which still continues to this day.

“Until you forgive yourself, you’re gonna struggle.”

Looking at the frail Gooden, it’s hard not to worry about him. He’ll turn 52 later this year. You just hope he can finally find some peace. He lives with his 26-year old daughter Ashley in Newark. It’s a far cry from the Amazin’ success he had at age 19 and 20.

Looking back as a kid growing up in New York City, I’ve never seen a better starting pitcher at the beginning of a career. He was so young. While most 19-year old teenagers are becoming responsible young adults attending school and working, Gooden was dominating NL hitters like nobody’s business. Like Strawberry in ’82, he easily won NL ROY in 1984 winning 17 games with a 2.60 earned-run-average (ERA) with a league-leading 276 strikeouts in 218 innings.

Gooden’s ’85 season remains one of the best of all-time. At only 20, he went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA while fanning a league best 268 in 276.2 innings. So dominant was Gooden with his blazing high 90’s fastball and classic 12 to 6 curve, he finished with 16 complete games including eight shutouts over 35 starts. He was a unanimous choice as NL Cy Young getting all 24 first place votes to easily outdistance John Tudor (21 W 1.93) and Orel Hershiser (19-3 2.03).

Beaten out by the Cardinals for the NL East, the Mets had to wait one more year to make the playoffs. When they did, they won a franchise record 108 games under manager Davey Johnson. But by that point, Gooden had already tried coke following the ’85 season. He candidly admitted that once he did one line with his friends, “It was over.” Heavy would be one word to describe this documentary. By then, he was known as Doc for his nickname Doctor K. He won 17 games with a 2.84 ERA and 200 K’s in 250 innings.

The ’86 Mets had it all. A staff of aces featuring Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Bobby Ojeda, who poetically was acquired from the Red Sox in the ’85 off-season for Calvin Schiraldi. They also had a pair of closers in southpaw Jesse Orosco and sidearm righty Roger McDowell. Possessing a balanced attack that featured Strawberry, Gary Carter, Keith HernandezRay Knight, Wally Backman, Rafael Santana, Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra and Kevin Mitchell, the Mets could beat you with pitching, defense and offense.

To hear Johnson describe his ballclub as “pesky,” he didn’t panic when they were down to their final out in a memorable Game 6 of the World Series against the Red Sox. After all, this was the same resilient team that went 16 innings to beat the Astros in Game 6 of the NLCS with the prospect of facing dominant Mike Scott for Game 7. Even if he was scuffing the baseball, I knew as a kid that they stood no chance had it reached that point.

The World Series was unpredictable. Tired from the wild finish to the NLCS, the Mets dropped the first two games at Shea to fall behind 2-0. That included the Red Sox pounding Gooden in Game 2. But the Mets fought back winning the next two at Fenway Park. Boston won Game 5 with Bruce Hurst outpitching Gooden.

As fate would have it, Game 6 went extra innings. When the Red Sox pushed across two runs in the 10th, it looked like they would finally break the Curse. But after getting the first two outs, they never recorded the third one. With the champagne on ice in the visitors locker room, NBC had to abort ship. A story best told by Bob Costas. Down to their last strike, these Mets wouldn’t die. Consecutive hits from Carter, Mitchell and then Knight cut the deficit to 5-4 off Schiraldi.

Boston skipper John McNamara pulled Schiraldi for Bob Stanley. The rest is history. Mitchell scored from third on a Stanley wild pitch. Mookie Wilson then followed with a slow roller to first baseman Bill Buckner that went under his glove into the outfield allowing a startled Knight to come around third and score the winning run.

I can still remember watching it in my room. As a 9-year old who hadn’t picked either New York team yet, I rooted for the Mets. They were exciting and fun to watch. If you weren’t a fan of Gooden or Strawberry, I don’t know what to tell you. You couldn’t miss a Gooden start or a Strawberry at bat. The only other player I felt that way about was Don Mattingly. My all-time favorite player. Donnie Baseball will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s ironic that all three players never made Cooperstown. Mattingly due to his bad back and the troubled Mets’ pair of Gooden and Strawberry due to their substance abuse.

Gooden didn’t have as many great years as Strawberry, who admitted he was still able to perform at a high level despite his addiction and marital issues with him getting into trouble for spousal abuse. Something he swore he wouldn’t do as his father had to his Mom. Both Doc and Darryl had backgrounds which doomed them. Gooden battled alcohol since he was 16 while Strawberry had a Dad who abused alcohol and hit his mother. Maybe fate brought them together.

They’ll always have that magic moment in ’86. After coming back to win Game 6, they won Game 7 by a score of 8-5. Even though they fell behind 3-0 after two innings, there was no doubt they would win Game 7. Home runs from Knight and Strawberry highlighted a three-run win. The lasting picture is Orosco striking out Marty Barrett swinging.

If only it could’ve lasted. After a night of late partying, Gooden didn’t make the parade. After calling his Dad, he phoned his drug dealer. To hear Gooden tell it during the documentary, he kept celebrating with “one more hit” and “one more drink.” Before he knew it, the clock kept going faster and faster with the sun coming up. He would wind up watching the parade on TV. Something that really damaged him. It took a long time for him to recover from the shock.

That’s how powerful drugs are. It doesn’t matter who you are. In the 80’s, cocaine was a hell of a drug. It didn’t just doom the careers of Gooden and Strawberry. Plenty of famous athletes and musicians struggled with coke addiction. Len Bias succumbed to it after getting drafted by the Celtics. He suffered from an acute cocaine intoxication a day after partying with his teammates on the Maryland campus. Tim Raines also dealt with it during an All-Star career.

The bottom line is that this 30 For 30 was unlike any other. It was more about Gooden’s and Strawberry’s ups and downs with the disease. When you reflect back, those Mets teams easily could’ve won three straight World Series between ’86-88. I can still recall being stunned when Gooden was suspended to start the 1987 season due to cocaine. If there was a most interesting part, it was when Gooden approached Strawberry about whether he outed him to Knight when MLB commissioner Peter Ueberroth informed Knight that they knew one of “the Mets’ black stars was on cocaine.” That he worded it that way is uncomfortable. That would never go over well today.

Strawberry didn’t exactly deny it. He only pointed out that there were only two black stars on the ’86 Mets. He said he told Knight it wasn’t him. You could tell Gooden was uptight about this 30 years later. Only Strawberry and Knight know for sure.

One of the other things that stood odd was Strawberry’s admission of how prevalent greenies were. So many major leaguers relied on them as pick me ups after long nights. For Strawberry, that meant quickly recovering from drinking and God knows what else. Ditto Gooden and most of the ’86 Mets, who are known as bad boys who partied frequently yet still won. It’s insane that they did. But also speaks to the talent and chemistry they had.

Strawberry went a step further indicating that the use of amphetamines made him see the baseball better. It was bigger. Even Willie Mays drank red juice before playing. In other words, many Hall of Fame legends weren’t pure. So it is a bit hypocritical when you see what baseball has done. Of course, that also includes the use of performance enhancers and steroids. Will Barry Bonds ever make Cooperstown? He has a better chance than Roger Clemens, who looked finished after leaving Boston for Toronto. Bonds dominated prior to juicing following the Summer of ’98 when MLB turned the other way as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa shattered Roger Maris’ single season home run record.

You can learn a great deal from watching this documentary. The drug culture was epic. Despite it all, the Mets came very close to winning in ’88. But lost to the Dodgers in the NLCS falling in seven. A series-turning Mike Scioscia home run off Gooden in Game 4 turned the series. Led by Hershiser and NL MVP Kirk Gibson, the Dodgers stunned the Athletics in the World Series. A series best remembered for a hobbled Gibson’s pinch-hit walk off home run against Dennis Eckersley.

An arm injury to Gooden in ’89 was really the end. The Mets never recovered. They would remain competitive thru 1990 with both Gooden and Strawberry. But back-to-back second place finishes was the best they could do. When Strawberry left, it was truly the end of an era. In ’94, Gooden relapsed. I remember it well because I was coming back from Fairleigh Dickinson. Dad picked me up after orientation and told me Gooden was suspended again for substance abuse. My heart sank.

It was the end for Gooden as a Met. He was suspended from baseball for the entire ’95 season. He remarked to Strawberry how he read that statement over and over. A harsh reality that a game he had loved and played since he was a kid was gone for a whole year due to his powerful drug addiction.

He returned with the crosstown rival Yankees in ’96. He signed with them due to George Steinbrenner. The same demanding owner who once was banned from baseball for the Dave Winfield/Howard Spira saga, he also had a big heart frequently giving troubled former stars second chances. I’ll never forget being at The Stadium for that memorable night when Gooden tossed his only no-hitter against the Mariners. I still have the scorecard in the attic. It was a great defensive play by Gerald Williams early that preserved the no-hitter by robbing a 19-year old Alex Rodriguez of an extra base hit.

To hear Gooden tell it, he was pitching on raw emotion. As it turned out, his Dad was on his sick bed. He decided he wanted to pitch that game for him. It would be the final game his father ever saw. I sat with buddy Ivan in the upper deck behind the plate. As the innings went on and Gooden showed some of his old form striking out five Mariners and keeping them off balance, I thought he had a shot at it. In the fateful ninth clinging to a 2-0 lead, he put on the tying runs. But retired the final three batters including a strikeout and Paul Sorrento pop up to a rookie named Derek Jeter that clinched the no-no. 134 pitches.

Gooden won 11 games that year but tailed off. He was left off the postseason roster. Interestingly, he was part of the ’96 and ’00 teams. He actually pitched in the ’97 playoffs for the Yanks, ’98 with the Indians and ’00 with the Yanks. After winning 194 games with a 3.51 ERA and 2,293 K’s in 2,800.2 innings, he retired at 35. Just like with Strawberry, I will always wonder what could’ve been. How many games would he have won and how many career strikeouts or Cy Youngs?

The positive is both Doc and Darryl are still here to be appreciated and celebrated. They both made it to the Mets’ 30-Year Championship Reunion in May. That will be forever cherished. Especially for a franchise that remains stuck on two World Championships. Both Amazin’.

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“Your Sweet Symphony”

“Your Sweet Symphony”

by Derek Felix AKA D Flex 

 

You’re a diamond I’ve always been crazy for

A fancy piece of jewelry who always shines 

Wonderful like a full moon washed upon the shore

A golden necklace that makes me write perfect rhymes 

 

I’ve been in love with you since the first time we met

You were someone unique who had that magnetic spark 

We connected as if you were heaven sent 

I would go to great lengths to watch the stars with you in the dark 

 

Just to see your charmed smile means everything 

You’re a independent woman who has so much power 

I’ve seen the birds fly in synchronization and sing 

I imagine your beautiful dark hair lasts during a summer shower

 

Your picturesque face is like a work of art 

The kind of painting that stands on its own 

Your calm demeanor and flow is off the charts

You amaze anyone you meet but that’s always been known

 

Your sweet symphony 

Is playing in my mind 

Your sweet symphony 

Is playing in my heart 

Your sweet symphony 

Is truly one of a kind 

Your sweet symphony 

Tastes like a blueberry tart

 

I walk alone for now thinking of you 

My mind finally clear of all the distractions 

For a while I wasn’t myself or true 

I was lost without you and had a negative reaction

 

I wanted so badly for things to work out 

For us to hang out and be together 

But soon realized that wasn’t what you’re about

I panicked like the sound of thunder causing inclement weather 

 

I bombarded you with texts which only pushed you further away

It was as if I couldn’t help myself 

I’m a hopeless romantic who never knows what to say 

It’s my weakness that caused anxiety and mental health

 

Psychologically, I checked out that night you caught on 

I never fully recovered but kept saying I was fine

The truth is I knew I came on too strong 

I spent sleepless nights drunk off a bottle of wine

 

Your sweet symphony

Is there for me to see

Your sweet symphony 

Floats in the air 

Your sweet symphony 

Holds the key  

Your sweet symphony 

Lights up everywhere 

 

Once, I got you a birthday card and told you about it 

You seemed excited which gave me hope 

Only to never get back so you could receive it 

It was as if even my best still resulted in ‘nope’ 

 

Since then, I’ve kept the card so I can finally give it to you

I never gave up completely because my focus is back

I understand better and am no longer confused

It took a lot of soul searching to get on track 

 

The thought of you still warms my heart 

I can see you clearly happy and laughing the night away 

Your pleasant demeanor plays such a big part 

It’s why I always believed in you since yesterday

 

You’re someone who deserves only the best 

You’re pretty something like a crown jewel 

I got that from a movie which passed the test

You’re pretty something is why you’re so cool

 

Your sweet symphony 

Plays such perfect beats 

Your sweet symphony 

Dances with style 

Your sweet symphony 

Is magical fancy feet 

Your sweet symphony 

Styles and profiles 

 

I swear I’ve seen you grooving above the magic puffy whites

The legends admiring your every move 

There you are like a shining star under the Broadway lights

Good god you always were so smooth 

 

You’ve painted snow angels after blizzards in the park

Your trippy shadow frozen in time 

A light snowfall decorates your hair as we were just dancing in the dark

Your breath as cool as ice drawing a line 

 

You have always been the one I’ve been all about

Someone who I have dreamed for but still lost 

All this time later I’ve never had any doubt 

You’re priceless so it’s never been about cost 

 

I want you to know that I have always loved you 

No matter what’s stood in the way 

I want you to know that I really want you to come true

It’s no longer about yesterday only living for today 

 

Your sweet symphony 

Is all I can hear 

Your sweet symphony 

Is what I desire 

Your sweet symphony 

Has always been clear 

Your sweet symphony 

Sets my world on fire 

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Raonic comes back to beat Federer to earn first Wimbledon final

In what was a excellent match, the first men’s semifinal on Centre Court went to Canadian missile Milos Raonic. The younger 25-year old showed heart of steel fighting back from a two sets to one deficit to best seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer 6-3, 6-7 (3), 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in three hours and 24 minutes.

For Raonic, it’s his first ever grand slam final. He came close in the first slam of the year losing in the semifinals at the Australian Open. It was also the same round and rematch on the same court as two years ago. That time, Federer prevailed in straight sets. That wasn’t the case today. The bigger and more mature Raonic was ready for this moment. He did it by digging deep after falling behind by a set against a tennis legend. Federer was gunning for his 11th consecutive win in the Wimbledon semis.

Early on, an improved Raonic who has worked with tennis commentator John McEnroe was able to make an early break stand up to take the first set. Backing it up with a powerful serve, he looked mighty tough early on. Supporting it with deadly ground strokes from the baseline, the big man also was willing to finish points at the net when the opportunity presented itself. He went 38-for-56 at the net (68 percent). A key strategic shift that McEnroe had to influence. He knows a thing or two about winning The Championships.

Facing an uphill battle, a resilient Federer nervously held serve in a tightly contested second set. It was in the tiebreak that the more proven 34-year old showed why he’s one of the best players of all-time. The 17-time grand slam record holder took full advantage of some crucial Raonic mistakes to win the breaker 7-3. Following a Raonic double fault- one of 11 on the day- Federer quickly won his next two service winners for 6-3. Then clinched the set on a missed Raonic backhand to level the match.

One break of serve is all it took for Federer to claim the third set. By now, his serve was really on. He won 16 of 17 points on his first serve. Similar to the second set, he never faced a break point. Even with Raonic recording eight of a match best 23 aces, Federer pounced in the seventh game. After holding for 3-all, he broke Raonic at love thanks to a few miscues. An aggressive Federer attacked from the baseline, drawing some errors for the break for 4-3. Following both players trading holds, Federer served out the set easily at love clinching it with an ace to plenty of support from a pro-Federer crowd who wanted to see him have a chance at a record eighth Wimbledon.

It wasn’t looking good for Raonic. Federer continued to keep the pressure on with big service holds. He also had a couple of looks at break chances which probably would’ve sealed it. But a brave Raonic valiantly fought them off with his monstrous serve and big forehand. It became a battle of wills in an excellent set of grass court tennis at the All England Club. They pushed each other to come up with big shots during rallies. Some of the entertaining variety with points at the net and winners hit on the dead run.

When Federer reached 40-Love at 5-6 down, it looked like it would go to a tiebreak. But two untimely double faults came back to bite him. A very aggressive Raonic applied the pressure with a pair of wicked returns from both the forehand and backhand wing. Eventually, Federer cracked on a third set point with Raonic earning the momentum turning break for the fourth set with a backhand winner.

Following an oddly timed long bathroom break by Raonic before the start of the fifth set, Federer had the trainer work on his knee. It would become an issue during the fifth set when while extended, he fell to lose an exciting point. It was one of the best points of the match that concluded with Federer throwing his racket at the ball as he laid on the grass. The point gave Raonic break point. Federer called the trainer for another repair before coming back out and saving the break point.

But in the final set, it was a more aggressive Raonic who finally got into Federer’s service games. He won three consecutive points for the pivotal break of serve in the fourth game. After finishing a point at the net with a forehand volley winner into an open court, he got to break point when Federer threw in his third double. That led to the point of the match. In one of the best points played during the tournament, both players gave the crowd a memorable rally. Raonic pressured with Federer refusing to give in with superb defense and volleying. Eventually, Raonic hit a passing shot. Raonic found the opening cross court with a forehand for a 3-1 lead, pumping his fist and showing emotion.

After he quickly held for 4-1 at love, he had a chance for a double break lead. But a game Federer denied it with a forehand winner and then held to hang in for 2-4. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much he could do with Raonic’s heavy and deadly accurate serve. He won 16 of 18 points on his first serve and was a solid 4-for-7 on the second. He never faced a break point. Even though Federer forced him to serve it out after the pair exchanged holds making it 5-3 Raonic, there was little doubt he would finally reach his first major final. He did it at love with some unreturnable serves. At 40-Love, he forced a Federer forehand long which finally clinched the biggest victory of his career.

Both players gave their best. Raonic had 75 winners and 40 unforced errors. Federer finished with 49 winners and just 14 unforced errors. Normally, that’s good enough to win. In the end, Raonic was just better on this day. He finally had enough gumption to beat one of the big four on a huge stage. Now, he awaits the winner between Tomas Berdych and Andy Murray. So far, it’s been Murray getting the better of Berdych. He leads the second semifinal two sets to none, 6-3, 6-3 and the third set 2-1. Unless his level drops or he loses focus as he did against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, it looks like Murray will prevail in straights. Berdych is a quality player. But has never shown the heart needed to win this kind of match. We’ll see what happens.

As for Federer, I think that was his last best shot at adding an 18th slam. There was no Novak Djokovic. No Rafael Nadal either even though his days of winning majors looks over sadly due to all the wear and tear. Federer played a high quality match. But just couldn’t win that big point to reach the breaker in the fourth. Blowing a 40-Love lead in his glory days was unheard of. The serve went off at the wrong moment which allowed Raonic to seize the day.

If it truly is the last time we’ll see Federer get this close again, it’s been an honor and privilege. He wins and loses with class. There will never be another one like him.

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Random Thoughts: Dwyane Wade trades in Heat for Bulls

Even in a hard fought battle, the Heat and Spurs exhibited what's right with sports. Getty Images/Steve Mitchell

So Dwyane Wade traded in his Miami Heat jersey for the Chicago Bulls. After spending over a decade helping the Heat win three NBA titles and reaching five Finals, D-Wade is no more in South Beach.

Personally, it’s sad. Sure. He decided to go home but what for? The Bulls are one of the most puzzling franchises in the league. They have no direction. Get rid of Derrick Rose, who was blamed for everything. Subtract Joakim Noah, who got one too many years to come home with the Knicks. Let Pau Gasol sign with the Spurs because Tim Duncan is supposed to hang it up.

At least they kept Jimmy Butler. Not like they could’ve shipped him to Boston for that third overall pick, etc. If you asked me to name the Bulls’ projected starting five, I can’t. They have done so many odd moves that it’s hard to figure out. Between sending Tom Thibodeau packing and hiring the confusing Fred Hoiberg, what are they doing?

Where does a 34-year old Wade fit in? The Bulls also brought in Rajon Rondo. Can he and Wade coexist? Wade’s from Chicago and starred for Marquette leading them to a Final Four. As the fifth overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft that featured LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, D-Wade is the second best player from that famed draft. He’s a proven winner who has always been an electrifying player who can close games. When James and Bosh decided to join Wade and form a super team, they won two NBA championships and lost in the other two. But before James carried them to those two wins, Wade did it with an older Shaq to win Finals MVP in ’06.

Simply put, Wade doesn’t get enough credit for Miami’s first NBA title. He was 24 and won in his third year. Jason Williams was their point guard and Antoine Walker played a prominent role. They won with guys like Udonis Haslem and James Posey. Alonzo Mourning backed up Shaq. Gary Payton also was part of the roster. That’s probably one of Pat Riley’s best coaching jobs.

So, you might ask why would Wade join the Bulls for $47.5 million over two years. Of course, he also has a player option if he wants to opt out for 2017. Why wouldn’t he? The Bulls are going nowhere. I can’t understand why he didn’t just stay with the Heat. Granted. They only offered two years for $40 million. Based on what other players are getting, I can see why Wade wanted more. But come on.

The Heat with Wade, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow could compete if Bosh is medically cleared to return from blood clots. That’s the biggest question with Miami. The Heat also have three days to match a four year $50 million offer sheet Tyler Johnson signed with the Nets.

When it comes down to the wild and crazy madness of NBA free agency, it’s unpredictable. It’s also become frustrating. Especially when you start to see rumors that Ray Allen wants to come back and play with the Warriors and their super team. Is this really what basketball has become? So much for competing.

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A truly inspirational comeback from a great champion Federer

Roger and Rafa

Wimbledon is the most prestigious of the four grand slams during the season. Rich in history and tradition, the marquee grass court slam has always captivated tennis fans. It’s not just about the tennis played at the All England Club in London. But much more. It’s one of sports best tournaments. Every year, the game’s best players come to see if they can fulfill childhood dreams. Of course, they already are just by making the field. Some go through qualifying while others are wild cards or lucky losers.

I’ve followed it since I was little. The first one I can remember was when a 17-year old German Boris Becker served big and dove for every volley at the net or so it seemed. He captured the Wimbledon crown in 1985 becoming the first unseeded player to win the tournament. Becker became my favorite player growing up. He won Wimbledon three times including a repeat in ’86 and finally in ’89 over rival Stefan Edberg. He also won the U.S. Open that same year making it the only time he won two slams in a single season. Boom Boom also was victorious in Australia twice totaling six majors.

Throughout the years, there have been some great champions. Pete Sampras was the master winning seven Wimbledon crowns including three straight from ’93-95 and four in a row from ’97-00. A little trivia for our tennis fanatics. Who was the only player to beat Sampras between ’93-00? Hint: He won his only career slam at the All England Club in ’96. Answer later.

After Sampras came Roger Federer. A magnificent champion who has won every grand slam and surpassed Sampras Open Era 14 slams with a modern record 17. It was a 19-year old Federer who stopped Sampras’ 31-match winning streak at Wimbledon in the ’01 fourth round pulling out a five set win to end his run. Though he was done winning on grass, he made one last memorable run to capture a then record 14th major by winning his fifth career U.S. Open in ’02. Of course, he beat friend and rival Andre Agassi in four sets to ride off into the sunset.

As for Federer, he was just getting started. Two years after upsetting Sampras, Federer won his first major doing so by beating Mark Phillippoussis at the ’03 Wimbledon. It didn’t take long for the Swiss Maestro to become King of Centre Court winning five consecutive Wimbledons spanning ’03-07. That was broken by Rafael Nadal in an epic five-set classic that saw the Spaniard avenge a loss in the final a year prior to stun Federer in one of the most memorable matches ever played. Federer regained the title in ’09 with Nadal injured. He tied Sampras’ record with his seventh Wimbledon in 2012 by defeating Andy Murray in four sets. Murray would avenge the loss at the London Olympics a month later to win gold.

Of all the legendary champions, Federer continues to be a fan favorite. Even approaching 35, he remains a threat at the slams. It’s been four years since his last win which gave him his 17th grand slam. He has also won five U.S. Opens (’04-08), one French (’09) and four Australian (’04, ’06, ’07, ’10). A special player who can come up with amazing shots that aren’t always through bashing the ball, Federer can play both defense and offense while also possessing great touch which allows him to come to the net when necessary. His serve was also one of the biggest reasons he’s won so frequently.

Since that point, Djokovic has been the best player on the ATP Tour. He just completed the career grand slam by finally winning his first French last month defeating Murray. The big win gave the popular world number one four consecutive slams. A rare feat that hasn’t been easy for any player to accomplish. He also won last year’s Wimbledon, U.S. Open and this year’s Australian. He had separated himself from Murray, Federer and Stan Wawrinka. When Djokovic loses, it’s a huge story. The overwhelming favorite to win again at Wimbledon, Djokovic was upset by American Sam Querrey in the fourth round in four sets. Had he moved through, many expected him to claim his 13th slam and pull within one of Nadal and Sampras.

Instead, Djoker’s exit left the door open for Murray and Federer. Murray has won two slams, winning the U.S. Open in ’12 following Olympic gold. He also won Wimbledon in ’13. The number two ranked Scot who represents Great Britain is 0-3 in slam finals since. His career record in slam finals is 2-8. However, at this moment he’s expected to win without Djokovic around. That said, Murray was pushed five sets by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before pulling out the final set 6-1 to advance to a semifinal against Tomas Berdych.

After missing the French Open due to knee surgery for his first absence from a slam since ’99, Federer is once again the semifinals in London. It’ll be his 11th trip. It nearly didn’t happen. In a rematch with 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic, he fell behind two sets in Wednesday’s quarterfinal. The quality of play was tremendous. It wasn’t so much that he was playing poorly but rather a credit to how well his opponent was hitting the ball. Like Cilic’s Open straight sets semifinal upset, the bigger Croatian was bombing the ball from the baseline and crushing his serve. Predictably, the first set went to a tiebreak. But it was all Cilic early. Jumping out to a 5-0 lead, he held on to win the breaker 7-4 to take the opening set.

The second set again saw the bigger man nearly impossible from the baseline. Backing up his big serve with huge ground strokes including a wicked forehand return on a Federer serve that was clocked at 104 miles per hour, he got the only break in the second set. That allowed him to prevail 6-4 and go up two sets.

At that point, it looked like lights out for Federer. I figured it would be a repeat of two years ago. But one thing about Federer. He never gives up. Especially on his favorite surface, grass. While it’s true the court was playing fast, the grand slam record holder showed plenty of heart in the third set. With it on serve, he fell behind Love-40 giving Cilic triple break point. Basically, they were match points. Lose one and it was probably over. But instead, Federer’s resolve allowed him to win five consecutive points and hold serve. As usually happens, momentum swung the other direction with Federer breaking Cilic thanks to a double fault. Before you knew it, he served out the set for 6-3 to get the crowd back in it.

The fourth set was even more captivating. Each player went serve for serve in a clinic. Federer really picked it up in the ace department. When he’s really on, his serve becomes awfully difficult to pick up. He admitted afterwards that he couldn’t figure out Cilic the first two sets. But that one game in the third set changed everything. There were only three breaks in the match. Cilic went 1-for-8 on break points while Federer converted 2-of-9.

There were no breaks of serve in the fourth set which needed a nerve wracking tiebreaker to decide. This one had everything. Each player had opportunities. Federer saved three match points. He was just gigantic calling on his serve time and again. Cilic also saved set points. On a couple of points, Federer just missed converting. The shot of the breaker had to be a deft slice backhand winner that caught the line for a successful Federer challenge for 5-3. It was a battle of emotions. Eventually, Federer prevailed with his big serve allowing him to win the breaker 11-9 to level the match.

In the final set, one break was all it took for Federer. A couple of more aces including one out wide allowed him to clinch an emotional five set victory, besting Cilic 6-7 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9), 6-3. The match took three hours and seventeen minutes. It wasn’t too long considering due to the dominance of the servers. There weren’t many long drag it out rallies.

If there was a difference, Federer had 27 aces and no double faults. Cilic had 23 aces but also threw in seven doubles at inopportune moments. Both men had good winners to unforced errors ratios. Turning back the clock, Federer had 67 winners compared to just 24 unforced. Cilic finished with 59 winners and 36 unforced. He missed a few key shots where had he made them, it’s probably a different outcome. Demonstrating how close the match was, total points favored Federer 170-162.

It was a well played five set match between two elite players. Cilic looks to be rounding into form after an injury riddled 2015. He should be a factor in the final slam in New York City. For Federer, this was his 10th career win from two sets down.

”I fought, I tried, I believed,” Federer told the Associated Press. ”At the end, I got it done.”

Milos Raonic awaits him next. The Canadian missile had too much for Querrey, holding off a rally with a four set win. Federer got the better of Raonic in the same round two years ago. Raonic is a better player this time around. He made his second career slam semifinal in Australia this year. One of the game’s hardest servers, he can flatten out his forehand and has shown more aggression finishing points at the net. John McEnroe is coaching him.

The two men’s semis should be entertaining. Obviously, Murray will be a heavy favorite over Berdych, who certainly hits big enough. It all depends on consistency. Murray has the edge in movement and intangibles. Raonic versus Federer is a toss up. It has the making of another five set encounter.

One thing that makes this run special for Federer is his age. He will turn 35 next month. He continues to defy logic. In consecutive losses to Djokovic at Wimbledon, he’s been the runner up. Djokovic also got the better of Roger at last year’s U.S. Open winning in four sets. Only the world’s best player has prevented Federer from adding to his major record of 17. This is a golden opportunity to win one more time.

In an era dominated by Serena Williams, who is also into her mid-30’s looking to match Steffi Graf, anything’s possible. Even a final Williams vs Williams final if Venus can defeat Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber. A tall order with Venus Williams also looking for one more Wimbledon at age 36. She last won a major in ’08. It would be truly inspiring. She’s continued to battle through Sjogren’s Syndrome which is an autoimmune disease that can cause joint pain and fatigue. It’s amazing she’s still playing and has her ranking back up to number 8 on the WTA Tour.

What one can conclude from seeing Federer or both Williams sisters is that they remain inspirational at this late stage. Federer has stiffer competition. But Serena deserves all the credit in the world for sticking around and staying hungry. Her drive can never be questioned. So, will Wimbledon 2016 conclude with two champions in their mid-30’s? Wouldn’t that be something.

The women’s semis are later today featuring Venus Williams taking on Angelique Kerber. Serena Williams faces Elena Vesnina.

Trivia Answer: Richard Krajicek won the 1996 Championships upsetting Pete Sampras en route to his only career grand slam.

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Disloyalty: Durant takes easy way out

New teammates? Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are no longer rivals with Durant trading in his Thunder jersey for the Warriors. A move which was sadly predictable in today's free agent era of disloyalty.  The Warr Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

New teammates? Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are no longer rivals with Durant trading in his Thunder jersey for the Warriors. A move which was sadly predictable in today’s free agent era of disloyalty.
The Warr Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The longer the Fourth of July holiday weekend went, the more I knew Kevin Durant was leaving the Thunder for the Warriors. All the early leaks that had the former league MVP staying with Oklahoma City for another year turned out to be just that. False.

With him hosting five teams at what essentially was a house party in The Hamptons, something seemed amiss. As reports came out that he was impressed with the Clippers’ presentation, I didn’t see it. Why go to a team that doesn’t know how to win? There also were the Spurs because of course there were. In desperation mode knowing Tim Duncan is about to retire. Hence the Pau Gasol agreement. The Heat were also in but didn’t stand a chance. If Dwyane Wade doesn’t return, then keeping Hassan Whiteside will be for naught.

As this played out, I knew it would come down to the Warriors or the only team Durant has known. The Thunder franchise he helped build from the ground up after Seattle relocated. Durant, an explosive scorer with flair was the man in OKC. He teamed with sidekick Russell “Westchuck” Westbrook to take the franchise to its only NBA Finals only a few years ago. As it turned out, they were no match for LeBron James, Wade and Chris Bosh as the Heat defeated them in five games. It was a series James dominated for his first NBA title with his new team in South Beach. The Thunder never got back.

Of course, James was the trendsetter using ESPN and the Boys and Girls Club to create a game show out of his first free agency in 2010. It became known as the Summer of LeBron. What would he do? Stay with his hometown Cavaliers in then suffering Cleveland or leave. He played it the same way attracting a few big suitors including the Bulls, desperate Knicks and of course the Heat. There was all sorts of talk of James going to Chicago to team with then MVP Derrick Rose to bring the Bulls back to supremacy. Back then, they were a strong contender featuring a healthy Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver. A group that would win an NBA best 62 games in ’10-11 only to be derailed by James’ Heat. The team he “took his talents” to. :\

When the announcement came live with James acting all emotional like it was such a tough decision, the truth was revealed. The real rumors were true about him and Bosh teaming up with Wade to form a team of superstars in Miami. Bosh was never returning to the Raptors. That much was clear. It was really all about James, who used the Knicks as a pawn. The biggest reason I never loved him. Sure. There were fools out there who actually believed LeBron would consider the Knicks and play in the biggest market under the bright lights at The Mecca on Broadway. Suckers.

James’ end game was always about getting the chance to play with true talent. Wade had carried the Heat to its only championship with an older Shaq. He wanted to win championships. So, he bailed on Cleveland and got his “college experience.” Playing in South Beach is far different from Cleveland. Miami is a party town. So, James got to experience life. But most importantly, he wanted to win. In all four years he was a member of the Heat, they made the NBA Finals. They went 2-2 losing to Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavs in an upset the first year. Then defeating the Thunder in 2012. They would repeat in a seven-game classic against the Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili Spurs. The rematch was won by San Antonio with NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard dominating along with an array of Spurs’ sharpshooters.

When it ended, James decided to opt out of his contract. Most believed he would stay with the Heat. But the way they lost said otherwise. The Spurs took them apart. The longer James didn’t commit to coming back, it felt like a hometown return was in the woodwork. A feel good story came to fruition when James penned a letter in Sports Illustrated about his desire to finally come home and bring a championship to the city of Cleveland. Though he didn’t deliver in the first year due to a much healthier and better Warriors beating a LeBron-led Cavs in six games last year, James willed them back along with Kyrie Irving from a 3-1 series deficit becoming the first team to ever win an NBA championship from such a hole in the Finals rematch against the heavily favored Warriors.

All postseason, Golden State looked fragile. Despite winning an NBA record 73 games to eclipse the ’96 Bulls, they didn’t look right struggling against the Blazers in the second round. They got lucky against the Thunder, who had them dead to rights. That’s what makes Durant’s decision to join the enemy puzzling. For four games, OKC dominated Golden State blowing them out twice to take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Final. They were the superior team. Westbrook had the better of it against a hobbled Stephen Curry. He was the best player on the floor the first four games. Durant was doing his usual timely scoring while big man Steven Adams was killing the Warriors inside. Serge Ibaka was also a factor.

It looked like it was over. But the Warriors got off the mat to win Game 5 on splendid shooting from Curry and Klay Thompson, who really was the driving force behind the comeback. Even in Game 6 when the Thunder had the Warriors on the ropes, they never could put them away. They were always a couple of three’s away from a run to hang around. OKC fell apart in crunch time with both Westbrook and Durant disappearing. Neither played well. Durant shot poorly and Westbrook forced the issue and had a couple of costly turnovers. Who knew that would be the final home game Durant would ever play?

The Thunder had their chance early in Game 7 getting off to a strong start. But by the half, the Warriors were right there. They took over in the second half with everyone contributing. With Westbrook reverting, Durant tried to bring them back one final time. His own 7-0 run cut it to three. But a ticky tac touch foul on a Curry three finished them. He sank all three free throws. Golden State finished it off and celebrated on their chaotic home floor. Before Durant left, Curry gave him a hug. Now, it’s poetic.

I really wanted to believe Durant would opt to stay with the team who drafted him. They were so close to dethroning the champs. They choked. Why not come back for one more run? Was the Ibaka trade to Orlando that much of a factor? Somewhat curiously, Durant said he liked the move that brought back Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and 2016 first round pick Domantas Sabonis, who should be a good player. I guess it was all for show.

In the end, Durant proved he was no better than James. The only difference being James didn’t leave to join the enemy. His reasoning was also better. The Heat weren’t even on the radar before he and Bosh joined Wade. The Warriors were a nemesis who had gotten the better of the Durant/Westbrook Thunder in a seven-game series. One which they had won. Honestly, Durant joining Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green in the bay area is worse than LeBron’s charade on ESPN. Who cares if he revealed it in Derek Jeter’s Players Tribune. I’m getting tired of seeing players defend themselves on that site.

Durant could’ve decided to return and take one more run at it with Westbrook, who is the NBA’s most exciting superstar. A guy who plays balls to the wall. Does Westchuck show sometimes? Yes. But he’s impossible not to love. A triple double machine who’s not the size of James. But is all heart and energy. A road runner on the court who plays above the rim. Instead, he’s left to ponder his future. Will he even want to stay with OKC? Or will he be traded in a long rebuilding project? The latter seems like a likely possibility.

Blame Durant. He took the easy way out joining a team of stars. In doing so, he made it easy for Golden State to say thanks but no thanks letting Harrison Barnes free to the Mavericks who massively overpaid on a four-year $95 million offer sheet for the restricted free agent. Had Durant chose the Thunder, the Warriors would’ve matched. With an escalating floor, we’ve seen a fair share of insane contracts. The Grizzlies giving Mike Conley, Jr. the max on a contract that pays him $30 million a year. He’s good. But come on. That’s ludicrous.

Durant signed a two-year deal worth $54.3 million with a player option after Year 1. Something all too common in the NBA. So, if for some reason it doesn’t work in Golden State, he can opt out. Gee. Do you think there will be enough basketballs for Durant, Curry, Thompson and Green to coexist? It should be interesting to see how Kerr handles his new All-Star lineup. Durant’s reasoning he posted on the Players Tribune is weak:

“The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction,” Durant wrote. “But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth.”

What exactly does that mean? I guess KD never heard of a little truth in advertising. How about coming directly to the point? ‘It was about joining a better team who knows how to win. It’s about championships. Clearly, I’m a traitor.’ 😉

Whether the aloof Durant wants to admit it, he’s now become public enemy number one. The Warriors are now viewed the same as the Heat. Universally loathed. Outside of Golden State, nobody wants to see them win. The whole superstar joining superstar thing is weak. There’s not enough hatred in sports. Not enough players who want to come back and get revenge. You saw it with James, who showed you raw emotion following a rejection of Curry in the Cavs’ win in Game 6. He wanted it. He let Curry know about it.

When it comes down to it, there’s no loyalty in sports. Rare is the athlete who wants to stay with one team. There aren’t many Cal Ripkens or Derek Jeters. Granted. The success Jeter had in the Bronx winning five world championships and seven pennants was a huge part of it along with the money. But could you have really seen Jeter ever leaving the Yankees? What about Michael Jordan, Larry Bird or Magic Johnson? Never. Isiah Thomas wouldn’t either. Even Martin Brodeur should be viewed similarly. Sure. He didn’t retire following his final season with the Devils. That was his choice. But he had done everything, winning three Stanley Cups and appearing in five Finals including at age 40 when he outplayed Henrik Lundqvist in 2012. All the records came with the Devils. So, he played a few games with St. Louis before calling it quits. So what. He also was a throwback.

Sports have changed. Ever since free agency really picked up in the late 90’s to early 2000’s, it’s become a business. Most athletes are out for themselves. Which team can guarantee them the most money? In hockey, the no-movement clause is vital. Players won’t sign without it. In other sports, it’s different. Only football doesn’t have guaranteed contracts. Sure. Some of the money is guaranteed. But once a player becomes expendable, they can be released. Baseball and basketball are different. If you overpay a player who declines, you’re stuck with the contract. There’s always risk.

The NBA has become unique in that some star players are looking for the right fit. So, you get what James did and now Durant. But Durant is joining an established model. Can we fault an athlete for deciding to play for a proven winner? No. But do we have to like the process when that player joins the team who beat his former one? A resounding no. It is what it is. While the league loves it because it guarantees higher ratings and more jerseys being sold along with more money to be made, it’s boring. Super teams aren’t fun.

There’s something very wrong here. Especially when a irresponsible team like the Lakers can shell out $64 million over four years for Cavs’ bench warmer Timofey Mozgov right after midnight. The kind of money being thrown around by owners and general managers is absurd. A spot up shooter like Ryan Anderson got $20 million per year from the Rockets. It’s great to be a role player in the NBA. Just ask Barnes, who benefited from Mark Cuban’s insanity.

The unfortunate part is it will continue. When I’m agreeing with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith who called Durant’s move to the Warriors, “The weakest I’ve ever seen,” you know there’s a problem. Disloyalty in sports. A trend started by Benedict Bobby Holik, who got a mammoth $45 million over five years from the Rangers which helped cause the 2004-05 lockout. There will always be turncoats. Johnny Damon came to the Yankees from the Red Sox and helped them win in ’09. Even if my team benefited, it’s the same thing. Jacoby Ellsbury hasn’t worked out like that with the Yankees a mediocre team under .500 needing to sell despite what clueless bozo Randy Levine thinks.

In truth, the business of sports is ugly. Mark Messier once left the Rangers for the Canucks. A move which was all about the money and because he felt disrespected by then MSG President Dave Checketts, who took care of Patrick Ewing. You can always find examples. I just can’t remember a time when I truly hated what free agency has become. The NBA makes me sad. May Kevin Durant and the Warriors have no success at all.

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Listen to Hard Hits Weeknights 10-11 EST

Not doing anything one night during the week? Catch Hard Hits Monday through Friday live for an hour between 10-11 PM Eastern Standard Time. Hosted by yours truly, Derek Felix and featuring John Giagnorio, Rob Davis, Brian Sanborn, Justin Felix, Dan Wheeler, Colin Cannaday, Chris Wassel and Greg Quarello, it’s an interactive one-hour sports talk radio show over on Blog Talk Radio.

Tonight is the Tuesday edition. It starts right now! Click on the live link below or catch our archive featuring overtime past 11 PM. Fun and random banter.

Listen in live to Hard Hits from 10 PM to 11 PM. Hosted by Derek Felix.

HARD HITS TUESDAY NIGHT 6-28-2016

Topics:

Baseball-Yankees and Mets buyers/sellers? Best of the first half? Most disappointing?

NBA/NHL Free Agency-July 1 approaches and what will happen with Kevin Durant and Steven Stamkos along with all the other hot rumors

Wimbledon-Day 2 had some rain. Serena wins her opening round. Any upsets?

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Knicks’ trade for Derrick Rose a gamble, NBA Draft tonight

The Knicks took a risk acquiring Derrick Rose from the Bulls for Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant and Jose Calderon.  Getty Images

The Knicks took a risk acquiring Derrick Rose from the Bulls for Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant and Jose Calderon.
Getty Images

Yesterday, the Knicks acquired former league MVP Derrick Rose from the Bulls. The full trade includes Justin Holiday,  a Bulls 2017 second round pick with Rose in exchange for Jerian Grant, Robin Lopez and Jose Calderon.

As it turned out, the rumors were true. For some reason, Knicks President and General Manager Phil Jackson wanted the oft injured Rose to fill the void at point guard. Unfortunately, Rose is an old 27 whose injury history has limited his explosiveness. Once one of the game’s best combo guards who could get to the basket at will, he’s a shell of his former self.

At 22 in Year 3, he won MVP leading the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Final. However, he was shutdown by LeBron James and the Heat, who prevailed in five games. He still averaged over 23 points for the series but was held to 35.0 percent shooting and 23.3 from three. Losing to James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade was no embarrassment. They were a better team. Though I do find it interesting that when resident Rose hater and buddy John “JPG” Giagnorio brings it up, how come he doesn’t mention how the Heat choked in the NBA Finals against Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks? 😉

Getting back to Rose, his career changed due to a torn left ACL in the 2012 playoffs against Indiana. The injury and rehab cost him the entire ’12-13 season. Despite hints he could return for the first round, he decided it was better to sit out. Without him, the Bulls were eliminated by Miami again in the second round.

The run of bad luck continued when he tore his MCL in his right knee 10 games into the ’13-14 season. That cost him another year. He played in 51 games in ’14-15 averaging 17.7 points on 40.5 percent shooting and 4.7 assists. Unfortunately, another right knee meniscus tear kept him out 20 games. Rose returned for the playoffs helping the Bulls reach the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He participated in 12 games averaging 19.3 points with 6.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds. It was his first real postseason since his MVP year when he went for 24.1 points, 6.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds. The Bulls were eliminated by James and the Cavs in six after leading the series 2-1.

By now, Rose had become the Bulls’ second option behind Jimmy Butler. With Joakim Noah breaking down and Pau Gasol in a contract year, Chicago struggled to a 42-40 record missing the playoffs under first-year coach Fred Hoiberg. Rose was able to play in 66 games averaging 16.4 points on 42.7 shooting with 4.7 assists and 3.4 rebounds. He also averaged 2.7 turnovers.

As the season progressed, speculation was that the Bulls were looking to move him. He had fallen out of favor. With a year left on a big contract he signed after his MVP season for five years and $94.3 million, he was getting over $20 million in ’15-16 and owed $21.3 million in the final year. It made sense for both parties to split. It was time. Rose had become an easy target. He no longer could be the guy. The injuries took their toll.

Now, Rose is a Knick for the ’16-17 season. He has much at stake. In a contract year, can he stay healthy and help the Knicks who are built around Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony reach the playoffs? Most observers like the deal. I’m not in love with it because it subtracted the team oriented Lopez, who could’ve been a good fit in new coach Jeff Hornacek’s up-tempo system. However, the Knicks did free up cap space by subtracting the final $42 million over three years left on a four-year $55 million contract he signed last summer.

The Knicks will probably pursue available centers which range from shot blocker and rebounding extraordinaire Bismack Biyombo to Hassan Whiteside, Dwight Howard or Al Jefferson. Noah is also available. He could come home and be a solid fit in a similar role to Lopez. Noah isn’t a big scorer but can rebound, block shots and is a good passing big. The best of the lot is Whiteside, who is a huge rim protector and can intimidate while having offensive upside. I’m not sure about Biyombo, who has no offensive game but really raised his stock with a strong playoffs for Toronto. As for Howard, who shares a birthday with me, supposedly there’s interest. But is he hungry enough? Obviously, he can’t be the main guy and wouldn’t have to be. I think he’s better off in a less pressure packed environment. Jefferson has some strong post moves and can bound. But I don’t see him as a fit.

As for giving up on Grant, I hate throwing away a kid they just drafted. It was a smart move when they traded the one-dimensional Tim Hardaway, Jr. to the Hawks for the rights to Grant at 19th overall last Draft. The former Notre Dame star didn’t get consistent playing time. There were moments where he showed spurts but others where he didn’t. He needs to play. I guess it’ll be with the Bulls.

Calderon has one year owed at $7 million. The 34-year old vet never worked out here. But he did shoot 41.4 from three. Not sure he fits in the Bulls plans. Especially if they unload Butler as has been rumored and start a full rebuild.

The NBA Draft is tonight. There’s not much to report other than Ben Simmons will go first overall to the 76ers. He’s got huge upside but isn’t the brightest bulb. I wonder if Philadelphia will make Jahlil Okafor available. It’s been widely speculated that they”d be willing to include him in a deal for the Celtics’ third overall pick. We’ll see. With the 76ers, you never know what they’re thinking.

As for the Draft, it’s weak. Brandon Ingram is expected to go number 2 to the Lakers. I like him. Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield also figure to go in the top 5. I believe both will be good pros. Denzel Valentine could be a steal for someone. So could Brice Johnson.

The Knicks and Nets don’t have first round picks due to awful trades. Toronto has the Knicks’ first at No. 9 overall thanks to the brutal Andrea Bargnani trade. The Celtics have the Nets first at third overall due to the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce failure. Holy cow. Boy, did they miscalculate. At least they have a second round pick. As for Boston, they have eight total picks in two rounds including three in Round 1 which is why they’re expected to be wheeling and dealing once Simmons and Ingram are scooped up.

The Knicks are rumored to be interested in trading into Round 1. With what remains to be seen. I guess we’ll find out later. The NBA Draft can be seen on ESPN with it going off at 8 PM. I’ll catch the latter part around 9 PM.

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