I wish I felt as good about the pending answer to the question of “Who’s Next” that faces the New York Knickerbockers top brass on this Thursday morning as I do about the sunny weather I’m enjoying as I sit in Pasadena waiting for my next meeting to begin. Or as I did when I used to listen to The Who’s hit album of the same name back in my teenage years.
But it is the Knicks, and there are so many variables that give me a stomach ache when I think about the team’s upcoming process for finding yet another head coach of this cursed organization. So rather than go too far down that specific rabbit hole (plenty of time to speculate on the “who” in the days ahead), here’s a few random thoughts (two NBA, one MLB) to think about on this sunny morning:
1. What did Jeff Hornacek do to deserve all this? And I don’t mean the firing. Mills and Perry were completely within their rights, and probably making the correct long-term call in taking Horny out last night/this morning. They need their own guy. And he was just a really poor fit for New York (and I truly don’t believe I’m exercising revisionist hindsight when I say that we all could see there was no chance of this ending well for him when he took the job a couple of years ago, on the heels of Steve Kerr clueing us all in to his excellent judgement by running from the job when everyone thought he was the guy). Horny never had a chance of making this a success.
All Hornacek did during his tenure at the helm was display high integrity, honesty with players and the press and toughness befitting his outstanding NBA player career (take a hike Joaquin Noah), all the while dealing with Big Chief What’s-his-name; the umpteenth chapter of Carmelo’s primer on how to kill a head coach; a staff he only partially selected; and most recently devastating injuries to his two best players that cratered the glimmer of hope that had emerged early in the 2017-18 campaign. Guys like Horny belong on the sidelines somewhere in the NBA and I agree with Perry when he said at this morning’s presser that the fired coach will land on his feet. Look for him in a smaller market having a big impact taking some unexpected team deep into the postseason in the not too distant future. Atlanta? Dallas? Orlando?
Sure, like most of us when we wake up following an unsuccessful venture, there are many things he could have handled better. But I’m left with the impression that this is the type of guy who is honest with himself on self-appraisal and I’m guessing he comes out of this stronger for the experience. And as much as I hate “I told you so’s” — to my friend out there who happens to be a close bud of Horny’s — I told you to counsel him to run, not walk, from James Dolan back when news of his hiring first leaked out, lest a pox befall him and all those close to him. A rare time SportsBro is sorry he was right. Good luck, Jeff!
2. How the hell are the Cleveland Indians 7-5 this morning? Is it too early to award Francona the Manager of the year Award (sorry Mickey Callaway, but we can credit Tito for your success, too, kinda, can’t we?)? Yes, this morning the Indians are sitting TWO GAMES OVER .500 after posting a lineup with the following batting averages last night against the Tigers:
*Lindor .184; Kipnis .109; Ramirez .146; Brantley .235; Encarnacion .146; Alonso .184; Gomes .179; Naquin .235; and Zimmer .188. YIKES!
And this was AFTER they scored five runs in a win over the Tigers last night. My gosh. Yes, they have terrific pitching, and sure the AL Central is putrid, but still. Buy calls on the Indians hitters RIGHT NOW. They might win 110 this year (but here’s a guess that Indians fans are already sweating who their first round opponent might be in the playoffs — can anyone say Ohani and Trout??). Yeah the weight of that piano-sized baton handed to them by the Cubs year before last may be feeling mighty heavy right about now in Cleveland. Add to that the karma Gods must have been paying attention when the NBA rigged LeBron’s title in Cleveland two years ago with that WWE-inspired Draymond Green suspension. The city of Cleveland may have won big on that one, but the micro-curse transferred to the Indians and it may take some time to get it lifted. So here’s hoping the Indians and their fans enjoy the summer (maybe another consecutive games winning streak to celebrate that no one will remember by their annual October ouster?), and hopefully Tito and the staff stay intact into the postseason and bring home a title (especially if their playoff run includes a total annihilation of the Bronx Bombers along the way).
3. A reason to cheer for Carmelo? Yup, I think so. One of the members of my personal “Least Favorite All Time Starting Five” (stay tuned for that upcoming post), I didn’t like him in his one year at Syracuse (to this day he gets too much credit for carrying the Cuse to the title during his one and done Freshman year, when it was the seniors on that squad that were the differentiators), felt he was an irrelevant gunner during his time with the Nuggets, never making good teams better and ultimately killing his coach in the process, and of course watched him underperform on the big NY stage from Day 1, while deftly deflecting any blame and taking a couple more coaches out along the way.
But man, I can not agree more whole heartedly or respect and appreciate more deeply his view on Russ Westbrook’s shameless stat padding and rebound “stealing” that got him his second annual “season triple-double.”
To me, this accomplishment is about as irrelevant and and somehow less meaningful than Kobe scoring 60 in his last game as a Laker. When BOTH teams on the court are overtly rooting on a particular stat-based outcome, the meaning is zero. Less than zero. Just bad for basketball, but in this mob-culture-like NBA present day, the average player genuflects to the LeBrons and Westbrooks out of fear of somehow alienating them and ruining their chance to latch on to some residual fame or benefit attached to riding their coat tails. Give me a few more hard picks and pointed elbows during the game, and a little less of the group selfies among combatants only seconds after the contest concludes.
And while we are at it, give me Oscar Robertson’s seasonal triple-double as the gold standard forever. Doing it before it is a “thing” is the real deal, and yes, I recognize rebounds were easier to come by in many ways back then. Still, the Big O did it exactly as Russ professes he is doing it today — in the context of being the best player on the court doing everything he can to help the team win.
Watching OKC’s supporting players pull up on every loose carom so Russ can grab it himself, thus enabling his quest for personal stats and the accompanying slot in the record books is shameless and hurts the game and those of us who cherish the stats that act as mileposts in the history of our fandom. So way to go Melo, laughing out loud on court at his teammate’s selfish actions and correctly calling him out for what it is with the press — “stealing” another rebound while teammates and opponents all stand around hoping they somehow get captured in the ESPN video of the “historic” moment. Arrgghh.
Unfortunately, all that being said, Mr. Westbrook is both a freak and a force. Maybe the best player in the league today (different than MVP, by the way). Bringing in Paul George was a brilliant move by OKC and he makes a much more complimentary and effective wingman to Westbrook than KD ever did. The Thunder will be a tough out in the playoffs, and if they somehow face off with my hometown Dubs, I see them winning — easily.
That’s it for today. Would love to hear your thoughts.