NY Sports Today, Pt. One: The NBA

New York is pretty much the center of the universe.  Us citizens in New York acknowledge that fact and we ride with it.  Even those who aren’t from the great city of NY – when they compare our city to any other, it usually ends in a defeated mutter: “. . . but nothing is like New York.”   Yes, it’s the city all others love to hate and for good reason.  We stick our noses in the air,  and we are all in a rush because we all have somewhere to go or someone to meet.  Another reason this city is the one most love to hate, is because of it’s sports fans.  Personally, I get it.  Growing up in New York, I grew away from the fan bases of all the metropolitan franchises and mainly because the fans were just awful.   It’s not the fans’ fault though.  They grew up in the city that the world revolves around, so why wouldn’t the sports world revolve around their teams as well?

For the next few weeks I’ll be breaking down exactly where the professional franchises in this great city are in respect to the leagues they’re in.  This week we’ll tackle the NBA.  Here is where on one side you have a team that’s holding on to some imaginary greatness in the Knicks, and on the other side is one of the more forgotten professional franchises in the Brooklyn Nets, who are (unfortunately) the only team I care about in this great city. . .

The New York Knicks:

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Since the start of the new millennium, the New York Knicks have been a downtrodden franchise, who have been the focal point of frustration for most New Yorkers. Some blame Donnie Walsh.  Others blame Mike D’Antoni or Isiah Thomas.  The truth is, it was a cluster of stupid mistakes combined with ill-timed trades that had the Knicks in a perpetual state of hopelessness.  Since appointing Phil Jackson as the team president, the fan base has gone through  many ups and downs, in what is now – just about two years.  Phil Jackson hasn’t done much to re-ignite hope in the fan base until (let’s be honest) he got lucky and drafted Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in the draft.  Why, lucky?  Because, in all truth he wanted Towns or Okafor – everyone did.  When he drafted the 7-footer out of Latvia, nobody knew what to expect.  And in true New York Knicks fashion – their fans expected the worse.  Much to their delight Porzingis has shown enough flashes in his rookie season that Knicks fans are comfortable moving forward with him.

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Things don’t get easier for the Knicks though.  Phil Jackson’s first choice as head coach, Derek Fisher was released this year and he has been replaced by Kurt Rambis.  Rambis, by resume or sheer looks is not the guy Knicks fans want.  To complicate things even further with the Knicks this year is they don’t know what/who they are.  They should be a team looking to groom it’s young star in Porzingis and even give more playing time to the youngsters Langston Galloway and rookie Jerian Grant but it seems like Jackson and Rambis want to “push for the playoffs.”  For what?  To get swept by the Cavs in the first round?  What does that do for you?  As it stands right now the Knicks are the 12th seed.  Last time I looked this wasn’t the NCAA Championship Tournament so being a 12th seed does you no good here.  In the Knicks’ weak attempt at trying for the playoffs, they are consistly playing with a back court of Aaron Affalo and Jose Calderon – those are two guys you couldn’t package in a deal even if you threw in all the Beatles masters and the sword of Gryffindor.

So, when it comes to the Knicks they have this one piece to build with in Porzingis.  A fading star in Carmelo Anthony.  And three interesting role players.  Oh and they’re all being coached by a guy who looks like this:

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and when he played, he looked like this:

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Someone needs to tell Phil Jackson to pump the brakes.

The Brooklyn Nets

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If there was ever a “wrong” team to root for – it might be this one.  You have to search high and low to find true Nets fans in New York.  Unfortunately for me, I see one in the mirror everyday (albeit it’s not a horrible sight, but I digress. . .).   When Mikhail Prokhorov bought the Nets in 2009, he brought with it a re-branding, a fresh start and an excitement rarely seen by this fan-base.   That lasted all but 3 years.  Give Prokhorov credit though, it’s not like he didn’t try.  He wasn’t shy with his money (as he had the most expensive and over-paid back court in the history of the NBA with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson) and he was quick to pull the trigger on a trade to bring Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn (which resulted in the NETS giving the Celtics every first round pick from now until I’m in my 40’s.)   “The Mad Russian” tried to bully his way into the league and he realized the err of his ways.  This brings us to the present day where the NETS are the fourth worst team in the NBA.  Put that into perspective they have only 15 wins, which is currently only one game better than the Phoenix Suns – a team that fights with itself on the bench.

The Nets have hired Sean Marks to be the team’s new general manager.  This got the fan base excited because he comes from the San Antonio Spurs offices and he waived Andrea Bargnani right away.   Marks has his work cut out for him though.  There are no draft picks to speak of and the entire roster from top to bottom needs to be reworked.  The NETS should’ve traded Thaddeus Young at the trade deadline because his stock will most likely never be higher than it is right now.  And although everybody loves him, it’s time to part ways with Brook Lopez.  Besides the injury bug that always haunts him, it’s the fact that the NBA is moving in a different direction.  Big men like Lopez still have a place in this league, but not on a team like the NETS that really can’t do anything to protect his weaknesses as a player.  Joe Johnson should’ve found a spot on a playoff team at the trade deadline, but that didn’t happen either.

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The good thing about being a NETS fan is that you really don’t expect much. . . ever.  So Sean Marks has more than enough time to put something together, and if he doesn’t – oh well, we’re the NETS. . .

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

“The Life Of Pablo” Album Review

Kanye West is. . . well if you ask him: the greatest.  There is no denying Kanye West’s impact on pop culture as a whole and there is no denying his force in the music industry.  We all just wish he didn’t try to reinforce that into our brains every day of our lives.   He is what he is though. . . for whatever that’s worth.  To criticize his accomplishments because of his abrasive personality is tempting but it wouldn’t be fair.   This is Kanye’s first album since 2013 and it was supposed to be named “Swish” and then it was supposed to be named “Waves” and for some reason he decided to go with “The Life of Pablo.”

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Right off the bat, the good news about “The Life of Pablo” is that it didn’t include the two boring tracks with Paul McCartney and it also doesn’t include the lack-luster “All Day.”  Thank, God.   And that’s who Kanye seems to be thanking for the majority of the album, God.  Not Yeezus, but the actual God.  On “Ultralight Beam” which features The Dream, Kelly Price and Chance the Rapper, Kanye confesses his appreciation for the higher power and does so in his broken down singing, which could’ve honestly been assisted with some kind of vocal plug in during the recording session.  Chance the Rapper gives a good verse, almost blatantly stealing Kanye’s flow but it’s kind of out of place on this track.

Rihanna is featured on the hook for “Famous” and the track is everything you’d hope it would be.   Swizz Beatz plays the hype-man role to a Kanye who isn’t saying anything quotable per-say, but his energy is in a good place and even shows the pettiness we kind of love him for by taking an uncouth shot at Taylor Swift.  The song has a nice break with Sista Nancy and Swizz Beatz but it’s followed by the song’s outro  instead of going back to the hook which is where all the listener’s would beg for it to go back to.

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For fans of the “Yeezus” album (that’s like all ten of us), “Feedback” has that same raw and stripped feeling with Kanye finally getting back to his bragging ways: “I know I know, I shouldn’t even bother/With all these gossiping, no p*ssy getting bloggers/Fashion show in Gotham, I need another costume/PETA’s mad cause I made a jacket out of possum/Awesome, Steve Jobs mixed with Steve Austin/Rich slave in the fabric store picking cotton.” 

Kanye dusted off El Debarge and threw him on the hook for “Highlights” in which West throws more jabs at folks: “I bet me and Ray J would be friends/If we ain’t love the same b*tch/Yeah, he might have hit it first/Only problem is I’m rich.”    Explaining the reasoning for those lyrics to his wife at night must’ve been a fun conversation. . .

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“Real Friends” is an easy listen with Kanye (along with Ty Dolla $ign) explaining Ye’s relationships with friends and family in respect to his fortune and fame.  The back and forth between Kanye and Ty is an interesting look at an actual conversation between the two sides of the coin.  “Fade” is one of the better tracks on the album and it isn’t anything close to hip hop.  “Fade” is a break into smooth house music, and it’s definitely the type of song Kanye wants to see used in fashion shows, because that’s the other industry he’s tapped into.  The bass guitar and repetition works well with each other and it’s a song that one can easily see being remixed by house and techno DJ’s in the industry.

“No More Parties in LA” is a snoozer track which features Kendrick Lamar.  Both men are spitting aimlessly in their verses and Kanye at points doesn’t even try to stay on beat.  There are times on this album, like on “30 Hours” where the actual track sounds like a “practice track” where Kanye is just trying to catch a flow.  It’s an embarrassment to himself and a discredit to his fans.

If you noticed, there hasn’t been much spoken about production and that’s because that’s what’s most disappointing with the album.  We can at times forgive a lack-luster verse from Kanye or stomach his verbal “over-glorification” for the sake of great production – but he falls flat this time around.  As mentioned previously with “Famous” there are just points in the album when he has the listener all about the ride he’s taking you on and then decides to take a sudden left turn and drop you off in the wrong neighborhood.

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It says a lot when one of the best tracks is an acapella, forty-five second long interlude with Kanye just saying his name to rap every line. . . seriously, it’s clever but. . .

For an album that’s been nearly three years in the making and has brought itself the hype that comes with a Kanye West album, the final product seems incomplete.  It seems Kanye wants to flash his “genius” around, without understanding a simple rule to life and at times art: sometimes less, is more.

Rating: 5 out of 10

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

NFL 2015: What We Learned and What We Can Expect

Every NFL season brings it’s own brand of drama.  It’s own brand of heroics.  And unfortunately for some of us, it’s own brand of heartbreak.  Now that the Denver Broncos have been crowned champions of the league, the ever important off-season is in effect.  Contract talks, free agent signings and rookie hype all start now and before we know it – Boom –  we’re back into a whole new swing of weekly heart-attacks.  Here are a few things we learned from the 2015 season, and a few things we can expect from teams in it’s aftermath.

What We Learned:

It didn’t matter who the Broncos had at quarterback this year.

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Let’s be honest, if the money that was spent on Manning was given to a better running back, their season would’ve had the same outcome, but without any controversy.  Broncos kept old-school traditionalist smiling by winning the Super Bowl, just so that crowd can say “Defense wins championships.”

Adrian Peterson isn’t human.

Whether he’s returning from a terrible injury or returning after being ripped apart by the media for a year – nothing can stop Adrian Peterson.  In his ninth NFL season, Peterson ran for over 1400 yards and doesn’t seem to have slowed down a bit.  One would think that his bruising style would slow him down but he seems just as fit as he did in 2012 when he ran for over 2000 yards.  Too bad the Vikings are continually in a rebuild.  They had a once in a lifetime player and came up with nuggets during his tenure there. . . so far.

The Eagles and the Browns Have No Idea What They’re Doing.

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So let me get this straight.  The Eagles fired Andy Reid, who in 14 years at Philly gave them six division titles and brought them to five NFC Championship games; to hire Chip Kelly who went 10-6 in his first two seasons and then fired him when he went 6-9; to ultimately hire Doug Peterson, who was offensive coordinator in Kansas City.  Oh, who was he the coordinator under?  None other than Andy Reid.  You can’t make this stuff up.  The term “ass-clowns” comes to mind when discussing the Eagles.  The Browns aren’t all that better.  Since 2001 they’ve had seven different head coaches and six different general managers.  They’ve whiffed on numerous first round picks, the recent being the “in the media for all the wrong reasons quarterback” Johnny Manziel.  Both of these teams have loyal fan bases who at any given moment might just rush the main offices in the same fashion as Black Friday shoppers rush a Wallmart.

The Dolphins Are Awful:

Their quarterback, Ryan Tannehill’s numbers should really be looked into because the majority of his damage is done in garbage time.  And when it comes to the Miami Dolphins, their whole season is garbage time.  They spent big money on Mike Wallace some time back – got nothing in return.  Now they spent big money on Ndamakong Suh – and they’ll get nothing in return from that as well.  They had building blocks for a good defense but had to let a lot of that go to sign Suh.  Does Marc Anthony still own a part of this team?  If so he needs to bounce on this team quicker than he bounced from J-Lo (or as quickly as he bounced on to J- ah, never mind.)

What to Expect:

Kirk Cousins gets franchised by the Redskins.

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Kirk Cousins is a free agent and after his ridiculously good second half of the season, he may have played himself into the sights of NFL teams needing a starting quarterback.  Jay Gruden has believed in him and the Skins can’t be stupid enough to let Cousins walk.  I’d hope. . .  Just to make sure it isn’t fool’s gold though, a smart move would be to pay cousins a big salary for this season and see if they can get more of the same.  It’s worth the gamble if he turns out to be their guy for the next 5 years or so.

Matt Forte Finds Life On a Contender and For A Bargain Price.

Forte is 30 and has a very flashy skill set.  He’ll continue to avoid contact to stretch out his career and he’ll have to find a system where he’s either well protected or will play in space.   The Bears have been overpaying him for years, so he’ll look less for a payday and more for a winner.   Expect  New England or Denver to be the most intriguing plays with Dallas not too far behind.

NFL Starts Losing Faith in Andrew Luck.

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It won’t be his fault either.  They re-signed arguably the worst coach in the NFL in Chuck Pagano and they continue to draft badly and sign free agents that make no sense.  The offensive line will continue to be a mess and Luck, feeling the weight of every game on his shoulders, will start to lose confidence as he’s throwing picks trying to play “catch-up” every week.

Panthers Trying To Get Cute.

The Panthers have been a gritty team under head coach Ron Rivera, but expect them to franchise or straight up re-sign cornerback Josh Norman, and expect them to sign a couple of flashy free-agents in what will appear to be an upgrade in offense.  The truth is, this is a tight knit group that works more on the chemistry around their super star Cam Newton.  Although with a healthy Cam Newton, the Panthers win this division by default it’s still not a smart move to stir this pot too much.

The Browns Will Blow Another First Round Pick:

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Poor Cleveland.  They just don’t get it.  If and when they draft either Carson Wentz or Jared Goff, it’s just a matter of time before they realized they just reached for another quarterback that will NOT lead this wretched franchise to the promised land.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

 

 

Forte is Gone. Let Us Rejoice!

As a Bears fan, my loyalty cannot be questioned and it will never waver.  For better or worse, this is where my allegiance lies.  Although my loyalty to the “Monsters of the Midway” will last forever – my opinions are not to be forced.  There haven’t been many great times for this franchise and many will latch on to glimmers of what they see and hold on to it as truth.  Matt Forte, was one of those false ideals held in high regard by many of the Chicago faithful.
“Look at his numbers.”

That’s the argument you’ll get from Matt Forte supporters.

My response has always been “smoke and mirrors.”

I’ve seen every game Forte has played in.  Every single one.  I was sold in his rookie season, over 1700 total yards and 12 touchdowns.  I had to believe.  Bears fans long for the greatness at the running back position – and why shouldn’t we?  We’ve had Walter Payton and Gale Sayers – two of the all time greats at that position.  Since then we had three good years by Neal Anderson before his body gave up on him and Thomas Jones gave us three solid seasons but was never fully appreciated for what he brought to the table.

Forte was great for fantasy football fans.  He would get you the yards, get you the touchdowns – but those yards and touchdowns should’ve been more.  Forte had an innate ability to drop at the first sign of an oncoming tackler.  He was awful in short yardage situations, and although game-announcers would say he was a good pass blocker – I’m sure we’ve seen him miss more blocks than not.

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The Chicago Bears, for all our history and tradition – NFL fans see us as second fiddle to the Packers, and a long shot to win a Conference Championship.  Sure, we’ve popped up and caught the league off guard a few times, but it’s been in spurts – it’s never been consistent.  With that being said, fans around the league will look at numbers and not the actual in-game-performance of Forte and formulate the theory of “The Bears aren’t doing him any favors.”

The Bears did him the favor of not being that good, and making him look better than he was.   The real reason behind his reception and receiving yards:  Bears quarterbacks usually have to ‘check down’ to the backs because the offensive line can’t hold up  or receivers are running the wrong routes.

There is no doubt, Forte will get picked up by some other team and it’ll be worth it to them.  Dallas has an o-line that can cover up Forte’s softness and New England’s system makes everybody on offense look better than they are – these should be two possibilities for Forte and his camp.  He said he’s not about the money, he’s about getting to a championship so let’s see how that works out for him. . .

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Anyhow, in terms of the future of the running back position for the Bears, Jeremy Langford proved in Forte’s absence last year that he is more than capable of being a feature back.   Ka’Deem Carey would be the number two, and one would assume a free agent like the speedy Ronnie Hillman would be someone the Bears and John Fox would take a look at.   The Bears have a lot of work ahead of them but at least the future of the running back position seems good to go.

Getting over Matt Forte will be a lot easier than Bears fans think it will be.  BearDown and BearWitness. . .

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

Who Will Now Carry the NFL’s Torch?

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With everyone assuming that Peyton Manning’s career is done and with Tom Brady maybe having two more years in him, it’s time for us as fans – to move on.   Manning and Brady have been the center pieces for this league for as long as many of us can remember.  For some sports fans, they are the equivalent to what Joe Montana, Lawrence Taylor and Dan Marino meant to the generation before them.  The question now is: Who’s next?

Who will be the new face of the NFL?  Who will usher in a new era of football?  Who has the charisma and talent to carry the NFL into it’s next realm?

Before we just throw out names, let’s have some guidelines.  The first is, although the NFL is in love with quarterbacks and quarterbacks-only, let’s give love to the other positions on the football field.  The second guideline is that this “face” of the league has to be no more than 29 years of age. Remember, the face of the league is not just someone with amazing talent, but also someone with a “look” and someone who can “sell” the league. . . as well as cars, cell phones, watches and whatever else comes with the territory. . .  With that being said, let’s scope out the talent.

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The first three names are the obvious ones:  Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson.  Wilson is the only Super Bowl winner of the group (for what that’s worth) and also has the better all around supporting cast.  Wilson, although he has the squeaky clean image, finds himself in the media’s eye often.  He has the pop-star girlfriend and “boy next door” demeanor, which people love about him.  Newton and Luck are a lot more similar than people care to admit (check out an article by yours truly, which was written before the season).  This season though, it seems obvious that Newton has taken a step further than Luck.   The Colts are a horrible team, no defense and a limited offense, so Luck will have an uphill battle along the way.  All three of these youngsters have a certain charisma that fans have flocked to and so have sponsors.

Although he’s only one year in and although he already has been injured at a position known to shorten careers, there is just no way to ignore St. Louis — eh, L.A. Rams running back, Todd Gurley.  Gurley reminds many of a younger Adrian Peterson and if that’s the case, Gurley will be a monster among men for the next ten years.  With the Rams being in L.A. now, Gurley moves a step closer to Hollywood.   Gurley has already said he wants someone to give him a shot at acting, so he’s looking to get himself recognized on and off the field in a hurry.  Now, the rest is up to the Rams to build something that looks like a football team around him. . .

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Defensive players never get their due credit but at least JJ Watt has found himself getting on TV a lot, even when he’s not playing football.  Somehow, Watt has become a household name (sort of) and his dominance on the football field is second to none.  His intensity and explosiveness catches the eye of even the most non-traditional football fan.  What ultimately holds him back in terms of being the “face” of the league is the fact that he plays defense and that he doesn’t play for that other team in the state of Texas.

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Rob Gronkowski is a fun player to watch and a fun name to say out-loud: “grahn-cow-ski.”  Although there is no doubting the “awesomeness” for which he exudes, there remains the question: “Will he be as awesome, when it’s time for Tom Brady to retire?”  Nobody knows.  Although, the educated guesser would say there would be some kind of drop-off in Gronk’s numbers when that day does come.  The NFL would probably not want to endorse Gronkowski as their “face” though because of his wild partying ways – especially after the likes of Johnny Manziel have made “partying” seem down-right criminal in the eyes of NFL loyalist. . .

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Wide receivers are fan favorites because they are sleek, flashy and know how to celebrate better than most of the players in the league.  Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham Jr all have a look, character and their own brand of swag to challenge anyone for the crown of the “NFL’s New Face.”  All have at least one thing against them though.  For Odell, it’s just him getting in his own way.  What seems like fun to Giants fans, is mostly just annoying to everyone else.  He forgets he isn’t the biggest guy in the world and has a huge target on his back in the league. . . Dez is another who just gets in his own way as well.  At times just overly emotional and doesn’t think before he acts, on and off the field. . . Julio Jones, might be the best out of the bunch, but Atlanta needs to get some W’s on the board, because the face of the league can’t be on a squad most teams use as a punching bag. . . A.J. Green, has seen the most success, but that success in Cincinnati is always a predictable first round exit.  It’s become a punch line in the NFL and that isn’t a good look. . .

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If you had to guess for a secondary player, Arizona’s Tyrann Matthieu would get my vote.  That whole “honey badger” gimmick is working out pretty well for him and the fact that he came into the league with so many red flags and has kept himself quiet is a great sign.  He’s a natural and may already be the best safety in the NFL.  If you had to guess for an offensive linemen – Kyle Long.  Why not?  His lineage proves he can go “Hollywood” if need be and Chicago is dying for a star. . .

The NFL is definitely heading into a new era.  Offensively friendly and offensively softer, some would say.  These are the names that stick out above all though when it comes to carrying the torch for the NFL.  Some are soft-spoken, some are flamboyant.  Some are “sure things” while others are long-shots.  Either way, the talent is there for this new era, it’s all about who will separate themselves from the crowd.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio