Booing and Other Mets Fan September Rites of Passage

“Fucking covid Sox are gonna choke this up” — Manasquan Rob, long-suffering Mets Fan

The lack of clarity and punctuation in the text a group of us Mets fans received yesterday afternoon from Manasquan Rob didn’t keep the relevance from hitting us all right between the eyes.

The calendar showed September 1. The Mets were under .500, and their acting GM had been busted for DUI, asleep at the wheel of his car somewhere in Connecticut earlier that morning. It was only the latest in a string of hapless foibles that Mets fans everywhere have come to expect as part of the fabric of our franchise, every bit as blue and orange as Mr. Met.

Yup, it’s that time, Mets fans. The duration of our season can now be dedicated to rooting against the Yankees. And to further kick us in our collective shins, while the Mets acting GM was presumably sleeping it off in a cell somewhere, Gerrit Cole was in the process of looking nearly unhittable in striking out 15 Angels in only 7 innings of work out in Anaheim, stopping a mini losing streak for the Yanks in the process.

That pretty much says it all. The Yankees recently reeled off one of the longest winning streaks in the history of their storied franchise to again emerge as favorites to win the World Series, while the Mets responded with two of their biggest “stars” dissing their own fans (using the thumbs down signal) for having the audacity to boo their horseshit performances. September baseball in New York sure is alive and well post-pandemic, folks.

It didn’t matter that Manasquan Rob’s text ignored the fact that the Red Sox had already ceded the top Wild Card spot to the surging Yanks. Or that even before losing 11 players and coaches to Covid-19 appeared poised to miss the postseason. The point here being that a diehard Mets fan was choosing to focus his energy on rooting against the Bronx Bombers with his own team just five games out with a month to play. Such is the reality of living life as a fan of the New York Baseball Mets during the month of September.

Wait til next year, indeed.

Other notes as SportsAttic plays catch up with the collective angst of Mets Nation:

*I know I’m not the only one who was caught dreaming, if only for a day, about how the whole “thumbs down” controversy might turn into a September rallying cry when the Mets swept a doubleheader against the Marlins on Tuesday, winning the first game of the twin bill after going into the 9th inning trailing 5-1. Could a modern day reincarnation of Tug McGraw’s “Ya Gotta Believe” stretch run for us back in ’73 be brewing? It was all right there for the taking–a weak schedule stretch against the NL East bottom feeders for the Mets, while the Braves came back to earth facing tougher competition than the patsies that had facilitated their division lead. Thor was on the way back to tighten up our bullpen (even with only two pitches at his disposal), and Jake was throwing on the side for the first time since earlier this summer. Michael Conforto had seemingly rediscovered how to hit, and maybe even Lindor and Baez would rise up to the fans lofty expectations and use their public shaming as motivation to play like actual stars worthy of hundreds of millions of dollars. Could it still happen? Sure, five games out is nothing, particularly when one considers just how flawed the Braves roster is. But sometimes a season is just poisoned, and that appears to be the case for the 2021 New York Mets. I mean think about it — our first GM got canned for sexual harassment before the season even got started; Robinson Cano (who none of us ever wanted anything to do with anyway) was suspended for PEDs (again); deGrom’s magical greatest season ever gets derailed by multiple injuries; Thor’s rehab never came together as scheduled back in June; our $341 million dollar star hitting like Teddy Martinez; a lackluster trade deadline effort only landing us a guy who plays a position we’ve got covered for the next eleven years (and strikes out more than Dave Kingman); and now the current GM, who replaced the GM who turned out to be a sexual predator, and presided over our shitty trade deadline effort, is found passed out behind the wheel in the wee hours of the morning, following a bender that apparently began at a charity event hosted by our new billionaire owner. All together now…SAME OLD METS.

*Speaking of Steve Cohen. Did this guy underestimate just how deeply cursed our ball club really is, or what? I mean, c’mon, he was one of us! He’s seen it all just like we have. From the Nolan Ryan trade to managing to lose Tom Seaver for no return not once, but twice. And a thousand other disastrous events since then too lengthy to chronicle here. The point is Steve Cohen lived all this right alongside the rest of us. And he bought the ball club anyway. And now it is like the baseball gods are on a mission to teach this guy a lesson. We should be running away with the watered down NL East this year, Stevie. For the first time since 2006 we have a lineup that should strike fear into opposing pitchers. We had starting pitching and a deep pen heading into the year. Hell, we could even look at Cano’s suspension as a blessing in disguise, as it would create more plate appearances for Jeff McNeil. And here we are. No hitting, with a rookie none of us had ever heard of back in March as our most consistent starting pitcher. And yeah, we still can’t trust Edwin Diaz as our closer. No, this won’t be easy, Steve Cohen. This shit runs deep.

*And what of this supposed controversy around booing players? The first baseball game I ever attended was at Shea Stadium in 1971. It seemed pretty straight forward to me back then — when the Mets did something well, we cheered. When they messed up, we booed. The fans around me did both at that game, at the pre-appointed times. Fortunately there was more cheering than booing that July day, and the Mets won the game on the way to a third-place finish in the NL East (sound familiar?) that season. I’ve followed that simple prescription pretty much to the letter ever since as it pertained to my Mets, and I’ve reserved some of the most passionate booing for hated enemies of ours over the decades since. There have been many — hello, in no particular order, Chipper (Lar-ry) Jones, John Rocker, Vince Coleman (oh how I hated him — which he repaid me for by coming to the Mets years later and absolutely sucking), Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla (see Vince Coleman), John Tudor, Pete Rose, Whitey Herzog (smug SOB White Rat..), Richie Hebner (see Coleman and Bonilla), Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley…the list goes on ad infinitum. Am I supposed to reprogram myself now because we happen to be living in times of participation trophies, when we are apparently supposed to be more sensitive to the feelings of athletes whose hundreds of millions of dollars of earnings are both directly and indirectly coming from our passion for their chosen sports? Nah — I’m going to keep booing when terrible play or arch enemies deserve it.

*So do the Mets still have a chance, what with the record standing at two games under .500 and the Braves taking on yet another patsy tonight out in Colorado? Of course we do, but let’s hang on a minute, because we’ve seen this movie a time or two in the past. If we use history as a guide, it’s reasonable to expect the Mets current little run to continue for awhile. We’ve still got several more Marlins and Nats games on the schedule, and the prediction here is that we climb back over the .500 mark and creep a little closer to the Braves and Phils by the middle of the month. That should be enough to suck the lot of us back in, raising our hopes to the brink of giddiness. By then Thor and his flowing locks should be closing games with his 100 MPH heat, and deGrom may even toe the rubber against live hitters. But these are the Mets. And we’ve already established the season is likely poisoned beyond possibility of recovery. To me, it feels a lot like 1987, when the Mets clearly had the best team in the National League, defending their 1986 championship. But an early suspension of Doc Gooden, followed by multiple injuries and chemistry issues (Kevin Mitchell for Kevin McReynolds?? Are you effing kidding me??) ultimately torpedoed their season. Still, despite all that adversity back in ’87, late-September arrived with the Mets having righted the ship just enough to claw back into spitting distance of the division-leading Cardinals, with three games on tap for Shea Stadium in a key late-season series. And yes, I did forget to include Terry Pendleton on that list of players we booed with a passion like no other. Remember him? Practically leaping out of his shoes at a Roger McDowell sinker that didn’t sink enough, and ripping our hearts out with one swing of the bat?

It’s coming Mets fans…

Let’s go Red Sox.

National League Pennant Forecast — How Will the West Be Won?

Five months ago, when we were first handicapping the National League as to who would still be standing come October, it didn’t appear to be that difficult an exercise.

The NL East was the league’s deepest division by far, with talented teams top to bottom. Meanwhile out west, the Dodgers and Padres figured to be neck and neck all year, but it was hard to argue against a Dodgers repeat (defending World Series champs always seem invincible the following spring) given all the talent L.A. was returning, bolstered by their signing of the most sought-after free agent starting pitcher on the free agent market over the winter.

So you could pretty much sign up for a playoff tournament that would include two teams from the east (pick any two from the menu — the young and fearless Marlins ready to build on their surprise playoff appearance last fall; the reigning division champion Braves loaded once again; the Mets under new ownership looking to get out from under the franchise’s perpetual dark cloud while bursting at the seams with quality bats up and down what would surely be the division’s most potent everyday lineup; the Nats only a couple years removed from their 2019 World Series stunner; and the Phillies trying to do it the old fashioned way with high-priced free agents surrounded by a few inexpensive but serviceable pieces), plus the two SoCal rivals in the west, rounded out by one club from the uninteresting and non-competitive central, simply because the rules say so.

Not so fast.

Here we are smack in the middle of the Dog Days of August, the baseball season two-thirds of the way in the books, and very little looks the way we anticipated those few short months ago.

The NL East sucks (technical term). Nobody wants it, but so far only the Marlins and Nats have officially spit the bit. The NL Central has all but ceded things to the Brewers (who nobody really takes seriously as a potential contender), with the only competition down the stretch potentially coming from the Reds (Reds??), who we take even less seriously than the Brewers.

Out in the NL West, we are seeing, as expected, an ultra-competitive rivalry develop between the two SoCal ball clubs that each boast fantasy-type rosters and front offices unabashedly going for it right now, however that competition appears, as of today, to be only for home field advantage in the Wild Card game.

What in tarrrr-nation’s going on here?

That’s exactly what SportsAttic aims to sort out, as we continue our MLB Pennant Race prognostications, Senior Circuit edition. So here goes nothing (as with our American League review, we will only consider those teams at or above .500, even if there is absolutely no chance in hell a team may make the playoffs — hello, Cincinnati fans):

NL East Overview: How the heck did this mess happen? All those stars and all that high-priced talent, and we have…this? Lots of inconsistent baseball from the “Big 3” aka Mets/Phillies/Braves, with injuries taking a severe toll on every club. The Marlins acknowledged that they may have been a couple of years ahead of themselves in making the playoffs last year, and are back to building for their ever-elusive “future” around young arms. The Nats traded everyone of value away (except for Juan Soto — even the Nats aren’t that dumb) despite the division still being up for grabs at the trade deadline, and meanwhile the Braves, Mets and Phils keep doing their “take it, no YOU take it” routine, managing to infuriate all three fan bases on a daily basis. Someone has to come out on top, though, soooo…

*Mets – Nothing like starting out our unbiased, clinical evaluation with a heavy dose of homer-ism, right? Yup, the Mets will win this division. Primarily because the Braves won’t be able to overcome their injuries and the inconsistent Phillies’ lack of pitching depth will cost them in the end. Look for New York’s vaunted rotation to piece together enough healthy arms by September to eke out this embarrassment of a division with 84 or 85 wins. deGrom, Thor, Stroman and Carlos Carrasco will come together just in time to form the starting rotation nobody wants to face in the postseason, and all those underperforming bats will get the chance to redeem themselves with a fresh start under the bright postseason lights.

*Phillies – They’ll hang in there until the end, as Joe Girardi continues to grind the enamel off his molars whipping his stars like lazy mules in an effort to will them to the division title. But only two quality starting pitchers (even when one is presumed Cy Young winner Zack Wheeler) and the worst pen in baseball dooms the Phighting Phils to second place and another year of watching the playoffs from their couch.

*Braves – Sometimes it just isn’t a team’s year (spoiler alert — you may hear that line again when we get to the NL West), and from the get-go things just haven’t fallen into place for the Braves. Fully healthy, this team would be the class of the division, but it is hard to overcome losing a do-everything star and clubhouse leader like Ronald Acuna, Jr. They gave it the old college try, adding useful pieces at the trade deadline, but when you’ve already been crippled by a torn ACL (Acuna), achilles (Soroka) and strangulation charges (Ozuna), it’s hard to see Joc Pederson being the difference-maker to get Atlanta over the hump.

NL Central: With an eight-game lead and 50+ left to play, we can safely award the division to the Brew Crew. But c’mon…does anyone truly see them as a World Series contender? Like their AL Central cousin, the White Sox, Milwaukee will take advantage of the weak division schedule (not to mention the broad-based bed-shitting going on in the NL East) to earn, at minimum, home-field advantage in the NLDS. Somehow the Reds have put themselves seven games above .500 as of this writing, good enough to miss the playoffs this year without ever even making it interesting, since both wild cards will emerge from the stacked NL West. Same goes for the Cardinals, who would be firmly in the thick of a pennant race if they still called the NL East home (shit, they’d probably be the favorites in the east), but due to the imbalance of power in the National League and the strength out west, they’ll find themselves home in October, too.

*Brewers – When Avisail Garcia is your most menacing power hitter and your former MVP has forgotten how to hit (back injuries are a bitch, just ask Don Mattingly and David Wright), I guess you have to rely on your arms to get you there. And the Brewers do have arms. The Milwaukee starting rotation has put up stellar numbers thus far, but all are on track to throw more innings than they ever have, which will likely catch up to them come playoff time, when they can no longer fatten up on terrible teams like the depleted Cubs or Pirates. And maybe its wishful thinking, but I’m looking for closer Josh Hader to come up small in October as well. They’ll get the winner of the putrid NL East in the opening round, and it will end right there for the overrated Brew Crew.

*Reds – This is an up and coming team playing good ball that most years would have them contending for the second wild card spot right about now. This isn’t most years, though. The Reds will fade in September and finish below .500 when the light bulb goes on that they have no shot at the postseason.

*Cardinals – They always seem to get hot just when everyone’s forgotten they are in the league. Could this be one of those years? Even if it is, and the Redbirds get Red hot the rest of the way, it won’t matter. A record of 30-18 from here only gets them to 88 wins, so barring a collapse out west, it’ll be wait til next year time in St. Louis.

NL West: The gold standard of MLB divisions through the season’s first 110+ games. We all expected to see the Dodgers and Padres at the top of the standings as September approached, but the Giants? Did anyone see these guys playing .640 ball 114 games into the season? Holy hell! It’s too big of a sampling to continue calling them a fluke or a house of cards ready to collapse at any moment (that would be me at least a dozen times to date this season), but really? If San Francisco cools off to just a .500 pace from here on out, they still win 97 games! Even the most hardened of the skeptics and haters here at SportsAttic have to admit at some point that the Giants are legit. But with the arch-enemy Dodgers and Uber-talented Padres still in hot pursuit, will they be able to close the deal in the city by the bay?

*Dodgers — Yes, it says here that Evil Empire West will come away with the division. Way too much talent, even with Mookie Betts landing on the IL the other day. Their trade deadline acquisitions of Mad Max and Trea Turner from our nation’s capital almost feel unfair at this point. Despite Cody Bellinger’s mysterious, season-long malaise, there is simply way too much talent here (bats and arms) for the defending champs not to come away with the division title. Look for the Dodgers to continue along at their .600 clip and nip a tired, fading Giants team at the wire by a game.

*Giants — Give them all the credit they are due. Best record in baseball? Check. Leading the league in home runs? Check. Busty Posey rising from the ashes? Check. Tremendous trade deadline acquisition of Kris Bryant to fortify the lineup? Check. Four starting pitchers, who at the beginning of the season wouldn’t have earned a roster spot on the Mets, all looking like aces? Check. Yet, when the dust settles, the Giants will get to try and validate this season for the ages with a one-game playoff against the Padres, relying on Kevin Gausman (Kevin Gausman?? Good grief!) to take them to the NLDS. Look for a second-place finish despite 95 wins that nobody saw coming, followed by one losing playoff game that will write the final epitaph on this unexpectedly successful Giants season.

*Padres — The Pads are a fun team to watch, boasting exciting stars, solid pitching, and a deep lineup. But there’s a “but” — but if Fernando Tatis, Jr. isn’t right physically heading into the playoffs, all bets are off. Do you really want to rely on Manny Machado as your go to superstar in a tight series? Tatis is the engine here, and assuming he’s one hundred percent, this team is capable of emerging from the National League and taking on Houston. The rotation is as solid as the Mets’ and Dodgers’, but Mark Melancon as closer gives me pause. It won’t matter against the Giants in the Wild Card game (I’m feeling something like a 12-1 blowout — sorry, Giants fans), but the pen could be the achilles heel exposed when the inevitable showdown with L.A. happens in the NLDS.

SportsAttic Crystal Ball: Your National League division winners will be (in order) — the Los Angeles Dodgers (96-66), Milwaukee Brewers (95-67) and New York Mets (84-78). The Dodgers will take on their neighbors to the south, the Padres, in one NLDS, while the Brewers will have home field advantage in their NLDS matchup against the New York Mets.

The home field will not matter in either series, however, as the Mets will easily dispose of the Brewers in five games behind their rejuvenated starting rotation (and barely enough hitting). Meanwhile in the battle of the 5 Freeway, the Padres will emerge victorious in seven thrilling games, because…well, because…well, because sometimes it’s just not a team’s year. Call it the Curse of Trevor Bauer (if ever a player truly warranted an honest to goodness curse, it most certainly is Bauer, by the way), but the Dodgers won’t even see the NLCS in 2021.

In a fun, bicoastal NLCS, the combination of the Mets vaunted rotation and two blown San Diego saves (courtesy of a burnt to a crisp Melancon following the high-pressure Dodgers series) will send the team with the worst record of all 2021 playoff teams to the World Series (just like those ’73 “Ya Gotta Believe” Mets did). And this time the Metropolitans will come away with different results than Yogi’s boys had against the A’s back in ’73.

Mets over Astros. Six games. Put it in the books.

Breaking Down MLB Pennant Races — American League

The calendar has turned to August and the Mets have been dislodged from first place, two tried and true indicators telling us it is time to start paying closer attention to the MLB pennant races.

The 2021 baseball season is roughly 70 percent in the books, and some old, familiar (i.e. disappointing) patterns are beginning to emerge. Like the Yankees’ bats getting untracked as the temperatures rise. And the Mets fading the way my drives used to off the tee (before I mercifully put away my golf clubs for good).

And the patterns aren’t just restricted to New York, either. Here’s a news flash — the Angels don’t have any pitching (other than their best power hitter, of course). Surprise, surprise. And the Rays are thriving despite giving away all of their best pitchers over the winter. Again. And just this week, the A’s lost a key piece for the duration of the season (and the one playoff game they play in every year) due to a steroids suspension. Yep, again.

So now that the Olympics are concluding and the NBA is taking its offseason break between the draft, free agency and training camps (yeah, we’ll watch the summer league in Vegas, just because…), it is time to dial back into the drama unfolding during MLB’s late-summer Dog Days, as pennant races take shape around the country.

Against that backdrop, we bring you SportsAttic’s mid-summer forecast for the MLB 2021 season, division by division, with today’s focus being the Junior Circuit. For the purpose of this forecasting exercise, we will only discuss those teams currently over .500, even if the team in question doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of making the playoffs (hello, Angels fans…):

AL East Overview: The division that is home to baseball’s Evil Empire watched helplessly once again as the Yankees used the trade deadline to fortify themselves for a playoff run, capitalizing on MLB’s unwritten rule that every year other franchises must be willing to sell off their stars in lopsided trades with the Yanks (and pay the remainder of those stars’ salaries while accepting middling, low-minors prospects in return. WTF!). But I digress…

Rays — In March I didn’t think they stood a chance at a playoff run, obviously ignoring the fact that I feel that way every spring when it comes to the Rays. Because here’s Tampa once again, in the hunt, not just alive, but thriving in first place as their large-market competitors look up at them. The Rays are a legit, dangerous team, with a lineup that never takes off an at bat, and that added much-needed power by picking up Nelson Cruz from the Twins at the deadline.

SportsAttic Aside: Let’s take a moment here to thank the Twins for shitting the bed BEFORE getting to the playoffs and becoming the Yankees personal punching bags this year. Here’s hoping the Twins never make the playoffs again. Ever.

Red Sox — When the Bosox appeared poised to run away with the division a month ago, it felt like they were playing way over their head. Now that Boston is performing as though they woke up and realized they just aren’t that good, the real question becomes can the wobbling Red Sox even make the playoffs. I mean, Nathan Eovaldi is their ace?? This one appears likely to end badly for Sawx fans (sorry, Geno), and look for their arch enemies from the Bronx to grease the skids of their collapse with a few late-September beatdowns (there’s a three-game series in late-September at Yankee Stadium that should lay the final hammer down on Beantown).

Yankees — Is the current hot streak just another head fake, or is this recent run of success for real? Do we just have another short-term tear built on the adrenaline jolt of good trade deadline acquisitions, all the while beating up on the many weak sisters around the AL? Or is this the real Yankees waking up and playing like the team we’ve been expecting to see all year? Feels like the latter to me, as much as it pains me to say it. Fortunately, I don’t believe the Yanks have the arms to go all the way, but adding Gallo and Rizzo to that lineup seems almost unfair, and this team will be a handful for anyone come playoff time.

Blue Jays — A fun team to watch, and the Jays should only get better over the next year or two, but the rules state only two teams can be Wild Cards, and Toronto will fall just short this year, despite having arguably the AL’s best hitter in Vlad Guerrero, Jr. and a heckuva deadline pickup in Jose Berrios at the front of their rotation.

AL East Prognosis: The Rays will hold off the Yankees (barely), thus earning themselves a three-seed and a visit to Houston. The Yankees will take the hard way once again, but benefit from the largesse of the biggest Wild Card patsy west of Minneapolis in the one-game play-in matchup. From there they’ll head to Chicago, where the top-seeded White Sox will be waiting. There you can look for the Bombers to end the overrated Pale Hose’s delusions of World Series glory without breaking a sweat. Thankfully for all of us haters, though, the Evil Empire’s run will come to an end down in Houston, where the Astros will thumb their nose at the rest of the MLB establishment, shouting a collective “no, fuck YOU” as they advance to the Fall Classic for the third time in five years.

AL Central: We can safely cede the Central Division and top overall seed heading into the playoffs to the Chisox, despite it being only the second week of August. Simply too many games against terrible division foes will allow South Side fans to dream of confetti and parades as their team approaches the 100-win mark for the season.

White Sox — They’re good, but not 100 wins and playoff favorites good. Jose Abreu is the real deal; a hammer looming large in the middle of an above-average lineup. And there are innings-eaters and depth in the starting rotation that will allow them to get to deadline acquisition Craig Kimbrel and lights out closer Liam Hendriks in what should be a lockdown bullpen. Such balance is a terrific formula to dominate over a 162-game schedule (especially in the paper thin AL Central). However their fans need to enjoy all these wins now, because come the playoffs, they’ll only be treated to one more “W” (at best) before being sent home early by the Yanks.

AL West: If despising the Yankees wasn’t such a full-time job, embracing a deep hatred toward those shitty, cheating Houston Astros would be way more fun. Oh well, you can’t have everything. And unlike the Yanks who play in the AL’s deepest division, the Astros face far less resistance keeping them from the playoffs this season. Look for the ‘Stros to coast to the division title from here, before hosting an ALDS series at Minute Maid Park (it will be against the Rays, just wait).

Astros — Yeah, they’re good again. And yeah, that really does kind of suck. Buzzers, trash cans, obnoxious stars — yup, so damn easy to root against, but like so many obnoxiously talented teams before them, these Astros seem to thrive on the deep dislike they engender across all of MLB. So get ready folks, we’re going to have the Astros onboard for another extended playoff run in 2021. Like every other AL team, there are questions in Houston about who will get opposing hitters out, but Greinke and McCullers at the top of the rotation are a good start. Ryan Pressly looms as a potential problem when it comes time to close out a crucial playoff game, but the base hits just keep coming at you with these guys. Look for an epic ALCS slugfest against the Yankees, with MLB fans choosing sides by trying to determine “which team do we hate the least?”

A’s — The Athletics are a solid team — well rounded, strong manager, solid front office. And they are positively snakebit when it comes to the postseason, where their whole “little engine that could” routine gets plowed over by the big-market powerhouses. And it will happen again this year. The A’s roster is constructed for regular season success, and that formula is working for them again in 2021. But the end result will be a date in the Wild Card game with the Yankees. And following that brutal beatdown, it will be back to the drawing board for Oakland, spending the offseason on more thrift shop signings that will allow them to do it all over again next year.

Mariners — If you watched any of their series against the Yankees this week, you can join me in wondering how the hell this team is over .500 in August. It is safe to say they won’t be by October.

Angels — All together now, “Poor Mike Trout.” The Angels’ generational talent and consensus best player in baseball (at least when healthy) will miss the playoffs once again in 2021. He’s been on the injured list since mid-May, and while it’s likely he will return for the stretch run, the song remains the same out here in Anaheim — no arms. All one needs to know is that Shohei Ohtani leads the Halos in innings pitched this year (with 86–good grief…) to understand why this team doesn’t have the pitching to catch the Astros or A’s. And it’s too bad, too, because Trout and Ohtani belong on the playoff stage. Maybe next year?

SportsAttic Crystal Ball: For those of you not taking notes, your 2021 AL division winners, in order, will be the White Sox, Astros and Rays. The White Sox top seed will earn them the honor of getting swept by the Yankees after the Bombers destroy the A’s in another Wild Card mismatch, while the Astros will outlast the Rays in an eminently entertaining ALDS contest.

In the ALCS, the Yankees arms (particularly their bullpen, worn out after another year of abuse at the hands of manager Aaron Boone) will prove their undoing, falling to the despicable Astros in seven games.

Next up — National League.

What’s In a Name?

So much to rail against, so little time…

Which means we have no choice but to go straight to Cleveland to kick things off today.

The Guardians?? Really folks? After having all this time to come up with a cool new name that Cleveland baseball fans could rally around during their surprisingly successful 2021 baseball season, this is what they give us?

Yes, I’ve heard all about some bridge called The Guard, and the metal works around it that somewhat resemble wings, hence the winged design in the much ballyhooed rollout of the new name/logo the other day. Sure, and we also get the clever “-dians” connection between Indians and Guardians. Uh huh…

But Guardians still sucks. Plain and simple. It’s just so very, very Cleveland, dontcha think? Keep up the fair work Forest City, and we’ll look forward to that next World Series title coming sometime in the 22nd century, if baseball even remains in existence then.

For the record, I was rooting for the return of the Cleveland Spiders. Spiders would have represented a nice nod to Cleveland’s nearly 150-year baseball history, while also being unlikely to offend anyone (no easy task today). Such a name would have provided a number of cool logo options, while continuing to connect the Cleveland baseball thread that dates back to the late 19th Century.

Heck, I would even take a redux of The Naps, the erstwhile nickname the Cleveland hardballers went by in the early 20th century in honor of their best player, Nap Lajoie. I’m not sure old Nap Lajoie remains a household name in today’s Cleveland, though, so how about a name from the ’80’s — The Joe’s — in honor of one of the more recognizable Cleveland stars of the past 50 years — Joe Charboneau? I mean, the guy even had his own song during his short, happy stint as a rising star for the Indians/Guardians back in the early-’80’s.

Yet I see risk in The Joe’s, too. Who knows if over the next century everybody named Joe in this great country of ours becomes ostracized and ridiculed, spurring a movement to restore dignity to all men (and women) named Joe by forcing Cleveland’s baseball club to once again change names following a particularly nickname-charged Presidential election in the year 2100? Could happen.

WTF…Guardians…

Sticking with controversial sporting topics of the day, am I the only American sports fan out here perfectly happy to see the USA Mens Basketball team get sent home from Tokyo with no Olympic medal?

This is not an anti-American, or an anti-Kevin Durant statement (although KD as the face of this squad certainly does make them even harder to cheer for), but rather an anti-favorites statement. I mean, c’mon. One of the (many) reasons I can’t stand the Yankees is because of their history as huge favorites, seemingly always stacking the deck in their own favor. A team expected to win. Same for the Patriots when Tom Brady was under center. Or any super-team organized around the talents of LeBron James. If the outcome feels like a foregone conclusion, I won’t root for the heavy favorite. Ever.

Give me the underdogs all day long, even during Olympic competition. And if that means rooting for France, so be it. I suspect if I followed soccer more closely I might feel similarly about the USA Women’s Soccer team, but I don’t, so they are safe for now.

Anyway, here’s my proposal — let’s go back to amateurs representing the United States in the basketball competition every four years at the Summer Games. I’m not proposing this become an Olympic policy, just a USA Basketball policy.

Taking this thought one step further, what if we restricted Olympic participation only to rising college seniors, thus rewarding those who choose to stay in school for four years with an opportunity for Olympic glory?

And what of those one-and-done hired Freshman guns that are only enrolled at an educational institution to check the box of NBA eligibility requirements, you ask? Well, passing on the Olympic experience becomes a data point that will factor into their decision to leave school. Early access to the riches of their NBA contracts will surely provide some level of solace for passing on the chance at an Olympic experience.

Let the other countries do as they please and play pros if they choose, that would only add to the USA Hoops underdog storyline.

I’d definitely be able to rally behind a bunch of amateur-status, 21- and 22-year-olds implementing a system coached by a Greg Popovich or a Dawn Staley, while taking on the hoops professionals from around the world. Such a squad may get bounced every four years without a medal, but I’d have a lot more fun remaining engaged as a flag-waving fan under such an amateur-roster scenario.

Instead, today I face the dilemma of rooting against my own country’s basketball team because I find enormous favorites unappealing. Especially a collection of NBA pros led by perhaps the least appealing personality in The Association today, a 6’11, scowling, nonsense-tweeting, super-team-forming poster child.

Just sayin’.

We’re rolling now, so here’s one more from the politically incorrect category. It’s been quite some time since I applauded any policy put out there by the NFL, but this week’s announcement of strict penalties to be enforced should the schedule be disrupted by non-vaccinated Covid-19 outbreaks within teams made sense to me.

And this isn’t a sentiment indicating a pro or con view on an individual’s choices around vaccinations. It’s a statement in favor of businesses establishing rules and guidelines as is their right, and their employees also possessing the right to follow, or choosing to go elsewhere.

It requires a delicate balance for any business to establish a culture and environment conducive to being supportive of the individuality and beliefs of all their employees, while simultaneously remaining committed to their for-profit underpinnings. Promoting fairness and equity for all, while also upholding the responsibilities embedded into a business’s revenue-based core values, all the while doing everything within their power to ensure safety and the greater good of all — well, let’s just say it’s not easy.

At a headline level, it appears to me that in making their decision, the NFL weighed the perspectives of all of their many constituencies — the world at large; vaccinated players; those without vaccines; the extended families of one and all; the league; the teams; and the desires of NFL fans.

In the few days since the announcement went out we’ve seen several players, coaches and front office types make the highly personal decision to remove themselves from their respective teams. An incredibly difficult sacrifice in the interest of remaining true to personal beliefs of the most emotional and private variety. I applaud those individuals for their conviction, and their courage to hold true to their position.

And I give the NFL credit for their strong stand around putting the safest, surest plan in place to deliver a 2021 season for all constituencies involved.

That’s enough for today. Time to take a breath and remind myself of the really important things in the world of sports today — the fact that it’s nearly August and the New York Mets still occupy first place in the NL East.

Hey Knicks Fans — What’s the Point?

The Knicks need a point guard.

I’m trying to count off how many different offseasons I’ve uttered those words dating back to when we traded Walt Frazier to the Cavaliers for Jim Cleamons in the summer of 1977 (and yes, Clyde was nearing the end of the line, but was Cleamons really the best we could do for crying out loud??). Already I digress.

The Knicks gloriously acquired a disgruntled Earl Monroe from the Baltimore Bullets in November of 1971 for Mike Riordan, Dave Stallworth, eleven pairs of size 14 Converse All-Stars, and two nearly-new Spalding basketballs. The acquisition of The Pearl brought us two additional finals appearances, one of which stands as the last NBA title won in the long and storied history of the New York Knickerbockers.

Since that magical moment when Monroe brought his talents to New York City, my Knicks have swung and missed on so many backcourt solutions it makes my head spin. In fact, other than signing Alan Houston as a free agent in the summer of 1996, it is hard to remember another successful backcourt deal the Knicks have made in the 50 (FIFTY!) years that have flown by since the Earl Monroe trade.

Sure there were the back to back drafts in the late-80’s that scored us Mark Jackson and Rod Strickland, helping to launch the reincarnation that resulted in the near-misses of the Riley Years. But think about it — what deal for a guard — point, shooting, combo — has worked out for the Knicks since Earl the Pearl joined forces in the Knicks backcourt with Clyde a couple of generations ago?

(SportsAttic aside– when the Monroe deal happened, I remember my biggest concern being who would get to wear number 10 for the Knicks — Monroe had worn 10 for the Bullets and of course Clyde was number 10 in New York. Huge relief to six-year-old me when Monroe accepted number 15 as a Knick.)

The Knicks extended run of futility when it comes to acquiring backcourt talent hasn’t been for lack of trying. Off the top of my head, I come up with countless past-their-prime names from years gone by. To wit, hope sprang eternal when first Rolando Blackmon, and then Derek Harper got stints in New York on the back nine of outstanding runs in Dallas. Turned out Blackmon was barely a shell of his Mavericks self once he donned the orange and blue, and Harper was a useful piece, but always a step slow against elite opposition once the Knicks would reach the playoffs.

Others, such as Rory Sparrow and Chris Childs were heralded as diamonds in the rough, imported to the Big Apple after brief runs of success elsewhere. We were sold similar storylines with Chris Duhon and Howard Eisley years later. Somehow the lightning that had been caught in a bottle at prior stops never materialized under the high expectations and bright lights of Madison Square Garden.

Doc Rivers, Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis, Mo Cheeks, Baron Davis and Chauncey Billups all got a turn way past their heroic primes, and none even managed to approach Derrick Rose-circa-2021 kind of success after landing in New York.

Really want to go deep? How about Paul Westphal? Remember Jarrett Jack? Yep, both were Knicks — you can look it up. Jamal Crawford sure could fill it up, providing the Knicks instant offense on any given night, as he did for nearly every NBA team at one time for another, but he hardly qualifies as a successful acquisition in the Monroe (or even Houston) category.

Do we have enough space to delve into the Stephon Marbury debacle? I still recall having to pull off the Long Island Expressway so I could scream at the top of my lungs when I heard that horrific deal announced on WFAN radio one cold January morning back in 2004 (and don’t forget we got Anfernee Hardaway as part of that franchise-fracturing trade–somewhere Isiah Thomas is grinning right now and has no idea why). All Starbury cost us was five players and two first-round picks. Oy vey…

But hey, we got Penny, too.

Like many Knicks fans, I may be something of a glutton for punishment, but I dredge up these horror stories of Knicks Trades and Signings Past merely as a cautionary tale with the 2021 NBA Draft fast approaching. The Knicks appear poised to make a deal (as they have for the past half century), and while I remain steadfastly supportive of any and all efforts that could somehow make Damian Lillard a Knick for 2021-22 and beyond, I’m worried about what the Lillard consolation prize could be.

We’re hearing Collin Sexton’s name bandied about all of a sudden. Should the Knicks end up with Sexton, here’s hoping from my keyboard to God’s ears that the young guard becomes the next Earl the Pearl, lacing up other-worldly heroics nightly at Madison Square Garden and becoming a key piece that one day nets us our long-awaited NBA title.

However, I think we may want to pump the brakes just a touch here. Collin Sexton happens to be the point guard (combo guard?) the Cavaliers are passing on. The Cavs (who’s front office will never be confused with the Red Auerbach Celtics) prefer Darius Garland, who they took with the fifth pick in the draft a year after they drafted Sexton at number 8 (one spot ahead of the Knicks, who continued their mastery of the NBA’s lottery system by taking Kevin Knox at number 9). Hmmm…methinks that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement from Sexton’s current employer.

Sexton can score, as evidenced by his three year averages of 16.7, 20.8 and 24.3 points per game for terrible Cleveland teams. But can he win? Lead? Never mind that he’s looking for an enormous, new contract after the coming season, either. Again, hmmm…

Sexton did average 4.4 assists per game over 35 minutes per last season. Hardly Frazier-esque numbers, but he really was more of a score-first guard, whether point, shooting, or combo, so 300 assists isn’t that bad. Right? RIGHT??

So now the Knicks are considering giving up coveted assets, be it picks we’ve accumulated, or young talent (I hate the idea of Obi Toppin being a part of a deal for Sexton, but we must presume he would be), to bring Cleveland’s (CLEVELAND’S!!) second choice on board as our 1A star beside Julius Randle’s 1. And we are now to hope/expect that a Randle/Sexton duo allows the Knicks to take that next, more difficult, step forward toward legitimate title contention?

Sorry, but I’m just not feeling it. And I can’t help but wonder how Coach Thibs feels about Collin Sexton being the showcase piece we add during this critical offseason? Does the kid know how to play defense? Will he make those around him better? Can he handle New York? We can’t afford another mistake that ends up being buried at the end of the bench next to so many others.

Please Leon Rose — keep the emphasis on pulling out all the stops for Dame. That’s a move a New York Knicks title can be built upon. We can’t revert back to the bargain-basement bin. For fifty years that recipe has tortured Knicks fans.

Go get Damian Lillard.

Hypocrisy of Olympic Proportion (and Other Annoying Sports Stuff)

Let me get this straight. An athlete can qualify for the 2021 Olympic Games, and then punctuate this incredible achievement by making pained faces of exasperation while turning her back on the flag as the National Anthem plays. And that’s okay.

Meanwhile another athlete can qualify for the Tokyo Olympics and have her accomplishment rendered null and void for “failing” a blood test that detected cannabis usage. And that’s not okay.

The question these headlines have created for those of us who from time to time feel like that curmudgeon who hates everything and everybody when it comes to the modern day world of sports, is how do we identify where the line is between right and wrong anymore?

Someone smarter than I (and yes, I realize that doesn’t really narrow it down much) once said “change isn’t hard, but resisting change sure is.” So as I find myself steamrolling headlong toward old age, I’m doing my damndest to acknowledge and accept the warp speed pace at which our world is changing these days.

But does being accepting of a changing world mean giving everybody a free pass for whatever type of behavior they choose to engage in? Hell no, and call me curmudgeon if you must, but I’m not signing up for that kind of laissez faire attitude just yet. So go ahead and send us your cards and letters decrying such old fashioned ideals (yeah, I know, it’s email nowadays — that was on purpose, kids), but to me if one of these athletes has to be tossed from our Olympic team, it really ought to be the one who openly disrespects the very team/country she will be representing.

And oh by the way, that doesn’t mean I’m against social justice or the people striving to make the world a more fair and equitable place for all (the excuse put forth as justification for the histrionics on the medal stand by the athlete in question). In fact, the equality dialogue engulfing our country these days is long overdue, desperately needed, and finally mainstream enough not to be easily dismissed or swept under the rug any longer.

However, maybe it’s that suppressed curmudgeon in me that asks why commitment to equality/social justice, and pride in our country have to be mutually exclusive. How about using the platform and notoriety that accompanies Olympic excellence to further a constructive dialogue on equality and systemic change among all Americans? I realize many consider such a suggestion to be pollyannaish, but shouldn’t there be some level of accountability to the institution an athlete willingly chooses to represent in international athletic competition? Just sayin’.

And what of the young woman who chose to use cannabis while dealing with the pain of losing her mother? A woman who accepted the results of her blood test unflinchingly, with no alibis or blaming of others. She just effin’ owned it, looking every one of us in the eye and reminding us that she’s just another perfectly imperfect human, like the rest of us. Yet she’s the one we are going to say can’t be an Olympian? If only she’d chosen to knock back a liter of vodka every night as a way of dealing with her sorrow. No worries there, right? Acceptable behavior, even for an Olympian. Not cannabis, though. Give me a break.

And if all that wasn’t enough to make me say “what the fuck” over and over this week, then we go and let that piece of shit rapist Bill Cosby out of jail? But this is a sports blog, so I’m just going to have to trust that there’s a horrific and eternal damning heading in the direction of America’s Dad, and here’s hoping whatever such fury may be, it reaches him very soon.

Back to sports:

*Maybe part of the reason I’m so out of sorts is because the first Subway Series game of the year was postponed due to inclement weather in the New York area. At least I can now look forward to two games on Sunday (even if they are of the seven-inning, farcical variety). And just a reminder for those of you not paying close attention — the first-place New York Mets will be visiting the fourth-place New York Yankees.

*Sticking with baseball, when Joe Girardi used to manage the Yankees, one of the highlights of that era was watching that stress-vein in the tightly wound Yankee skipper’s neck bulge whenever something would go wrong with his Bronx Bombers. I’m pleased to tell you that the Girardi vein-pop remains every bit as enjoyable today, as we watch the Phillies bullpen torch lead after lead while Joe grinds his teeth in the Philly dugout.

*Why is Tom Brady being pissed off at whatever team that chose not to sign him over a year ago suddenly big news? Didn’t Tommy win the freaking Super Bowl (again) with the team that did sign him? Next thing you know we’ll care about Brady’s golf game…

*I guess somebody finally played The Last Dance for Scottie Pippen. Either that or he’s just grown jealous of seeing his ex-wife getting all the headlines for preposterous statements and behavior.

*Who are these two asshole Paul brothers that seem to be parlaying celebrity boxing and 15 minutes of social media fame into a small fortune? Would you pay a hundred bucks right now to see them both get their blocks knocked off on Pay Per View? Yeah, me too.

*I’ve written frequently about how I no longer follow hockey. I can’t name a single skater currently on the New York Islanders roster. Yet somehow I was still bummed when the Isles were eliminated by Tampa.

*It’s starting to look like Serena Williams will never gets that elusive record-tying Grand Slam win she’s been seeking. That’s a shame, but shouldn’t diminish one iota what she’s accomplished over the past twenty-plus years. She’s done it on her terms, often while staring down major hostility from fans and the media. Here’s hoping she gets healthy between now and the U.S. Open and has one more exciting finals run left in her.

*On the other hand, if Novak Djokovic never won another match, let alone a Grand Slam title, I’d be just fine. Jackass.

*How did the Mets play first-place baseball while throwing out a M*A*S*H unit lineup every night, but now that their “stars” are healthy again they suck?

*Apologies to Geno the Sawx Fan, who has a perplexing and irrational dislike of Jacob deGrom, but we are watching the best of our generation every fifth day when deGOAT takes the mound (and yes, Geno, we are using the term “deGOAT” just to piss you off).

*Will the 2021 New York Yankees be the modern day version of the 1965 Yanks, who followed a World Series appearance in ’64 by finishing sixth, twenty-five games out of first? I sure hope so.

*How do the San Francisco Giants keep winning? I’ve written their fast start off as a fluke at least three times already, and here we are at the midyear point of the season and they still lead the best division in baseball. Hmmm…

*I guess I have to take Patrick Beverley off my “NBA players I like” list, huh? Yeah, his gutless shove of Chris Paul was one of the lamest displays of poor sportsmanship I’ve seen in a very long time. That being said, is Chris Paul by far the most annoying player in professional basketball, or what? Always flopping, whining, chirping…

*And yet when he opts out of his bloated contract after the Suns win the title this year (yes, folks, the Phoenix Suns will be NBA champs very soon), I don’t see any way Paul doesn’t become a New York Knick. And given the Knickerbockers history with such signings, look for Paul to be completely stripped of any semblance of hoops skill between now and training camp in the fall.

*I’m so tired of stories about spin rates and the different types of sticky stuff pitchers are doctoring balls with. If such rule-breaking really has been the primary culprit in offense being down this year, while strike outs are increasing exponentially, then I suppose it’s good MLB is cleaning it up. But enough already. Let’s play ball.

*I see LeBron is starring in a Space Jam remake? Like all comparisons between King James and Michael Jordan, my guess is LBJ’s new cinematic effort will not be nearly as good as the original, and way more annoying.

*Two weeks ago I’d never heard of Sha’Carri Richardson. Today she’s my favorite athlete.

Happy Independence Day!

The NBA — Who Do You Like?

SportsAttic’s blog heading today doesn’t refer to “The Association’s” 2021 playoff contenders, but rather to those players we identify most closely with when we think of professional basketball.

The NBA markets its stars harder than any other league, so it stands to reason that when the number of likable players begins to dwindle, the success of the league hangs in the balance.

Hang on, though, because in a way it does always hunt back to the franchise, doesn’t it? As of this writing, there are six teams still alive in the NBA Playoffs, and by the end of the weekend, we should have our Final Four. And truth be told, I’m having a heck of a time choosing a bandwagon to ride because there are so few players I can stand anymore.

The Nets would be the easy one, but as has been discussed multiple times on these pages, this year’s Nets edition is just so damn hard to root for. Maybe if Kyrie stays injured? Yes, that does help, but somewhere along the line Kevin Durant went from this sweet-shooting basketball savant to one of the biggest horse’s asses in professional sports. And even with performances like his other-worldly Game 5, when he played all 48 minutes and went for 49 points, I still can’t get onboard with a franchise where KD is the face.

Okay, then how about the Nets opponent in their upcoming Game 7 today, the Milwaukee Bucks? Nah, I don’t like them either. Giannis just doesn’t do it for me (one-dimensional, and what’s with this insistence on shooting the three when it obviously hurts the team?). Besides, the Bucks are just so damn bland and have been ever since they traded Kareem to the Lakers. Next.

The Hawks or the Sixers? Well ,let’s start with Philly. Okay, we can end there, too. It’s Philly, and I don’t root for any teams from Philadelphia. Besides, I think Ben Simmons may be the most overrated star in the league today, and Joel Embiid won’t truly earn his superstar chops until he puts his teammates on his back and wins a close series all by himself.He has that opportunity in their upcoming Game 7, so talk to me tomorrow. Wait, it’s Philly. Forget it.

The Hawks play more of a team ball system than any of the other eastern conference contenders, and I really like head coach Nate McMillan. But they suffer from the fact that they beat the Knicks in Round 1, and I hated them during that series just because. Throw in that I think Trae Young is a punk (a way more talented punk than I gave him credit for entering the playoffs, but a punk nonetheless), and rooting for Atlanta becomes an impossibility..

Maybe the answer lies in the west? I could easily jump on the upstart Phoenix Suns bandwagon if it weren’t for Chris Paul. He may be the best pure point guard and leader of this generation of players, but I still can’t get over the way he quit on Houston against the Warriors a few years back. Plus he’s chippy as hell and his State Farm commercials run way too often.

As a transplanted Southern Californian, I could plant my flag with the Clippers, kind of the basketball version of my New York Mets. They’ve mostly floundered in a two-team market dominated by the Lakers (nee Yankees), so they fit the lovable underdog bill. But how do I reconcile my disdain for Paul George? Major props do have to be given to George for stepping up with Kawhi out the last two games, so maybe another look is warranted, but PG’s presence and past disappearing acts make the Clips a stretch for me.

All of the above has led to some painful soul searching as I reflect on my 50+-year involvement with the National Basketball Association. Have I unwittingly morphed into that old curmudgeon of a fan? The one that sits around complaining about how today’s players can’t hold a candle to the stars of my youth? I mean, give me Willis Reed and Clyde Frazier all day long over today’s pampered and over-entitled “stars,” but that’s not being crusty, just honest, right?

The reality is, when it comes to my beloved Knickerbockers, I’m mostly rooting for the jersey these days (at least when they wear their traditional blue or white uniforms, not those black abominations). True, I learned to like Julius Randle this year, and Mitchell Robinson is fun to watch. I’m hopeful Immanuel Quickley becomes a modern-day John Starks, providing energy off the New York bench for the next decade. But it’s the franchise I root for, not this group of players (who happen to be the most likable Knicks we’ve seen in the last fifteen years or so).

Thus the question I lead with in today’s rant…who do you like?

I mean, I could write a book on all the present day players I don’t like (hiya, LeBron), but that’s too easy. Really, who are the players I like in today’s Association? Could I build a 15-man team around them?

After a quick scan of NBA rosters, I am relieved to see that there are still several stars I like, admire, respect, and can root for. Of course that list begins with Dame. Damian Lillard may be my favorite baller of the twenty-first century. Tough, talented, selfless and (if there’s a hoops god) soon to be the Knicks franchise cornerstone.

In addition to Lillard, sticking with just the guards for now, I can add the Splash Brothers in Golden State. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson (hopefully fully recovered in time for next season) remain as much fun to watch in their 30’s, for their all-around talent and approach to the game, as they were during the dynasty days. It will be good for the league if the Dubs can add a couple more pieces this offseason and have the Warriors contend in 2021-22.

Moving south, I’ve always enjoyed Patrick Beverley’s tenacious approach and defense-first mindset. Tough as nails and a great teammate, I’ll have no problem rooting for him (checkmark in the Clips column as I continue to scout for my playoff bandwagon). And now that Kemba Walker is shedding his Celtics green I can resume rooting for him–a class act that makes the players around him better. Meanwhile, Devin Booker is only getting better every year out in the desert.

Jae Morant? I haven’t seen enough of him yet, but there’s potential for him on the radar as a guy to root for down the road. Same goes for Luca Doncic if success doesn’t spoil him along the way. The Balls? Sorry, they may be the greatest guys in the world, but their dad killed any potential appeal for me long ago.

In the front court, I’ll root for Anthony Davis the minute LeBron moves on or should The Brow don another jersey. Put him and Mitch at center on my fantasy squad. Kawhi Leonard is another star that’s easy to root for with his disdain for me-first histrionics and a solid grasp of the fundamentals. Here’s hoping he gets back for the conference finals.

What about Zion, you ask? He’s done nothing to make me root against him, but I’m predisposed as a fan to not gravitate toward those to whom much is given. And I”m not wild about the rumblings coming from New Orleans about him already forcing his way out of town.

The Morris Brothers are two glue guys I respect, and even though I can’t keep who’s who straight between the twins, toughness and a willingness to embrace the enforcer role, while also possessing ball skills, are huge pluses for me. Throw in Robin Lopez for more dirty work and his cool hair, and we have the makings of one hell of a team.

I could go on and on here, and that’s really the point, because now I’m appropriately reenergized by my realization that I don’t need to give up on the NBA just yet. And that there remain stars in the league I can rally around, despite what may be my inexorable march toward curmudgeonhood.

As for the SportsAttic picks for the duration of the playoffs? Clippers over the Suns in the west. Sixers and Bucks survive in the east. And look for the Sixers to advance in a seven-game battle. But that will be the end of the line for Doc Rivers and his crew of underachievers.

It’s the Clippers year, and they will ride a healthy Kawhi and a rejuvenated PG to the first title in franchise history.

The NBA — it can still be FAN-tastic!

How to Fix the Knicks — Look to Denver for the Answer

It’s over. I really hope I’m wrong here, and the New York Basketball Knickerbockers have one more unexpected run in them, beginning with Game 5 back at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

But let’s face it everybody — it’s over.

This year’s Knicks team has been a fun one to watch and root for. And I do think they’ll pull together and win one more for us in New York before heading for the offseason soon after that. And as we’ve said repeatedly over the course of their 41-31 regular season, it’s been a fun and highly enjoyable ride.

However, the Knicks’ inability to keep pace with the Hawks (who are in no way one of the NBA’s elite) in Round 1 is going to leave Knicks fans with a sour taste in their mouths, and Knicks President Leon Rose facing a critical offseason.

The Hawks series has been an eye opener, as most (or at least I) expected the Knicks to advance relatively easily. Now with four games in the books to reframe what our expectations perhaps should have been, a few things have become abundantly clear:

  1. The NBA is a star-driven league, and Trae Young is a star who gives the Hawks an insurmountable talent edge every minute he’s on the floor. The Knicks don’t have such a star.
  2. Julius Randle is not an A-lister. That’s not to take anything away from Randle’s stellar season and the feel-good story of his commitment to improving his game. But he’s not someone that’s going to win a game all by himself (and neither is RJ Barrett, while we’re at it) or ever be a franchise cornerstone.
  3. Tom Thibodeau is a terrific coach and we all gratefully applaud the culture of excellence and professionalism he brought back to our Knickerbockers, but he alone can’t win a playoff series (especially when his opposing coach is every bit as good as he is — hats off to Nate McMillan for winning the coaching battle in this series).
  4. The 41-31 regular season crafted by Coach Thibs and this overachieving roster is likely hitting its ceiling, and without major change in the offseason, New York runs the risk of sliding back significantly in 2021-22.

So, if you are Leon Rose assessing the myriad needs that sit below the surface of this unexpectedly successful 2020-21 campaign, you have to be thinking about making bold moves this summer. The Knicks are loaded with draft picks over the next three years and appear to have found their coach for the long-term.

Thibodeau has put in place the culture that most inspires the Madison Square Garden hoops faithful — a defense-first, gritty, selfless group of ballers that play together without egos, creating a whole far superior to the sum of its parts. The Knicks head into the offseason with ample cap space and numerous young pieces that have trade value around the league.

In other words, the time is now. It’s time to go get the difference maker that can turn this franchise into a 50-win title contender. It’s time to go get Damian Lillard.

The first question, of course, is can the Knicks even get him? Good question. Thus for starters, if the idea of seeing Dame in blue and orange (by the way — can we please ditch those shitty black uniforms next year) is as appealing to you as it is to us, make the Denver Nuggets your favorite team for the duration of the playoffs (or at least the first round).

Because another early playoff flameout by the Blazers this year may finally be enough for Portland to pull the plug and begin a massive rebuild. You know the theory — we can’t get to the next level with Dame, so let’s start the rebuild and try again without him.

Lillard signed a $140 million, five-year deal heading into this season, a deal so big that it will limit other moves Portland might make in an effort to improve their roster. That fact can’t be lost on Lillard. And one of the few trade partners out there with enough cap space to take on a contract of Lillard’s size is…yup, our New York Knickerbockers. Couple another early playoff exit with the weight of $40 million per, and maybe, just maybe, Portland starts listening to offers.

So we need a first-round Blazers loss to Denver to push the Portland front office into at least considering what a good return for their superstar might look like. An ouster at the hands of the Nuggets may also push Dame to the boiling point, where he realizes that the clock is ticking on the prime of his career, and he’s unlikely to ever sniff a visit to the finals if he remains loyal to the Rose City.

The Nuggets-Blazers series is currently knotted at 2-2, with Game 5 in Denver Tuesday night. Get on the Nuggets bandwagon, Knicks fans, because if we can’t get Lillard, there isn’t an A-lister in sight that would fit Thibs system, and be able to instantly take us to the next-level promised land of title contender.

Think about it. Do you really believe Bradley Beal is the answer? Beal doesn’t play defense or make the players around him better, so it’s hard to imagine Thibodeau embracing Beal as his new franchise star. Paul George? Puh-lease — winners only need apply for the role of Knicks savior, and George is not that guy. Kawhi Leonard is that kind of guy, but has shown zero interest in New York in the past. Hard to imagine him changing coasts at this point.

No, Damian Lillard is the only answer. So if you are Leon Rose, blessed with draft picks, cap space, and the roster depth that could appeal to a rebuilding club, what do you offer the Blazers for their face of the franchise superstar?

What gets it done? If we were to start with two number ones, a number two, Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox, how would Portland respond? Yes, we can hear the laughter all the way from Oregon already, but hey, you have to start somewhere.

To get Lillard, it will take a lot more. Picks, players, maybe both. Ntilikina and Knox are both young, former lottery picks that many around the league see as serviceable role players in the right system. So we leave them in.

For picks, the Knicks have their own number one, plus Dallas’ this summer. Both picks will be in the teens. They have their own in 2022. And in 2023 they have another of Dallas’ in addition to their own. So five number ones (not to mention six second-rounders) over the next three drafts. Is three first-rounders, two seconds, Ntilikina/Knox and one more piece — a starter to help the Blazers save face during their rebuild — enough to pry Dame away from the PacNorthwest? Maybe, maybe not, but there is only one way to find out.

Or is such a package giving up too much? Mortgaging the future? That’s the riddle we are counting on Rose to solve, and in short order.

Who would be the right Knicks starter to include in such a package to get this deal over the top? Because in reality, I don’t think three number ones, two number twos, and two scrubs get it done. Would adding Mitchell Robinson to such a package be enough?

Portland would undoubtedly ask for RJ Barrett. And if I’m Rose, I don’t make Barrett available. What we are shooting for here is a Knicks team that can be in the conversation for a title next year. For that to happen, we need another year of maturation and improvement out of Barrett similar to what we’ve witnessed in 2020-21.

I can also envision our two number ones from a year ago — Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin — being major contributors to a winning Knicks squad next year. Both are uber athletic with high ceilings. Try to hold onto them, too. That leaves the high-flying Robinson, who would be painful to let go of. But this is Lillard we’re talking about. You have to give to get.

When we think of the 2021-22 Knicks, how does the following sound: a starting five built around Lillard, but also including Reggie Bullock, an improved Barrett, Julius Randle and Nerlens Noel (resign him, Leon). With Toppin, Quickley, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson forming the second unit alongside some three-and-D wing we pick up as a free agent.

Does that team beat the Nets and their Big Three in the 2022 conference finals? Brooklyn will be a handful for all comers next year, assuming they stay healthy, but a Knicks team that looks something like the above, led by Damian Lillard certainly would go into such a series with a legitimate shot.

Okay, one last thought. What if Portland feels Robinson is damaged goods, or just not enough of a sure thing to put this deal over the top? How would you feel about including Randle in his place? Maybe take back one of the number one picks, add another two?

I have to say, as much as I like Randle and envision him as an extremely effective co-star at Lillard’s side, I’d still include him if that was what it took to seal the deal. We’d need to bank on Toppin, Quickley, and especially Barrett to improve markedly over the summer months, but all three youngsters appear to have that kind of upside.

Plus, this version of the trade would leave enough cap space (after shedding Randle’s salary) to go out and sign a free agent starter that can score. Yes, do it Leon, if you must.

Bottom line here is this year’s Knicks and their surprise success has whet our appetites for more, Leon Rose. We can’t afford to take a step back after finally returning to the playoffs. And one more time — I hope I’m wrong — but this dud of a playoff effort against Atlanta has just raised the stakes on our offseason to an off the charts level.

Get us Damian Lillard, Leon Rose — at any cost, the Knicks need a superstar.

Five Questions about the NBA Play-In Tournament

Yes, we still hate the play-in concept for determining the NBA’s final four playoff qualifiers. And yes, we hope the NBA will recognize it’s misstep and see to it that this farce doesn’t continue past 2021.

But it’s basketball — a sort of NBA Purgatory for sure — but meaningful hoops in Mid-May nonetheless (even if the NBA insists on keeping up their charade that these are not playoff games). So with the games beginning tonight, what are some of the most riveting and thought-provoking questions that come to mind as we do our best to embrace the fact that in The Association, twenty of the thirty teams keep playing once the regular season has concluded?

Question #1: Are the Lakers healthy? Yes, it appears so. LeBron James has emerged from his bubble wrap rejuvenation routine, and will be a handful for all comers for the duration of the tournament (although it says here he will strategically pick his spots, both in-game, and in-series, to stay fresh). The bigger question is how does The Brow fare? He’s been beaten and bloodied all season long, and despite his professed eagerness to embrace the play-in contest(s), the additional games can’t be good for his long-term health prognosis. The King without AD, or AD without LBJ is a recipe for early elimination. If both big men remain ambulatory for the next month or so, look for the Lakers to emerge from the West (but it also says here that that won’t happen).

Question #2: Does that mean the Warriors have no shot Wednesday night? Yes. Sorry Bay Area hoops fans. But just for fun, here’s hoping Steph Curry has one of those lights out, unconscious shooting nights he’s known for, raining treys from all over the court, including half-court bombs to end each of the first three periods. And for even more giggles, let’s root for a vision of Draymond Green agitating and irritating LeBron every time he touches the ball, to such an extent that midway through the third quarter both players are ejected for their second pair of offsetting technical fouls. And how awesome would it be for this to be a one-possession game when the game clock winds down under two minutes in the fourth quarter? Fairy tale stuff? Yes, probably, but always beware the “puncher’s chance…” Go Dubs!

Question #3: Who’s the most dangerous play-in team in the Eastern Conference? It’s not close. The Wizards closed the season on a 17-6 run, and that was with Bradley Beal gimpy for the season’s final week. Nobody, and we mean NOBODY, wants anything to do with Russell Westbrook in a short series, especially when he’s carrying no pressure on his shoulders. Washington is playing with the house’s money, and should dispatch the Celtics, who spit the bit on this season right around Valentine’s Day, without breaking a sweat. And their easy win in Boston will set up a most exciting Round 2 matchup versus the Brooklyn Nets and a very familiar Big Three. Think the sight of KD and his cohorts might motivate Russ just a bit? Bring it on!

Question #4: If you formed one team out of the best players from both Indiana and Charlotte, could they win a game in Round 2 against the 76ers? Let’s see…Gordon Hayward, Caris LeVert, Domantas Sabonis, Terry Rozier… anyone? Anyone? No, combine the two rosters and they’d still get swept. Both teams are terrible and should not be allowed to play anymore basketball this year. As a protest to the watering down of The Association via this ill-conceived play-in format, hoops fans everywhere should boycott watching this game both in person and on television. That won’t happen, of course, and someone is required to win this matchup — so, let’s throw Michael Jordan a bone and call it a win for the Hornets. However, there is one significant reward for winning the East’s 9-10 Game. That reward is a second play-in game against the very same Boston squad that is about to get waxed by 30 against the Wizards. A Celtics team so disengaged that their players are undoubtedly already lobbying team ownership to let them forfeit this one and get an early start on their offseason. Welcome to the postseason, Charlotte.

Question #5: Who will emerge victorious into the actual playoffs? The West will go according to form, with the Lakers handling the Dubs at home Wednesday night to earn the 7th seed, and the Dubs having enough left in the tank to secure the number eight seed by taking down the up and coming Grizzlies. In the East, the Wizards will pack their bags for Brooklyn after dispatching the Celts, while MJ will get to enjoy two victory cigars as his Hornets send possibly the most boring purgatory-playoff team ever (hello Pacers) back to Indiana before throwing the final pile of dirt on Boston.

NBA Play-In Games — They’re FAN-(sort of)-TASTIC.

Likes, Dislikes and the Universal DH

If change is the only constant in life, then I suppose what we are experiencing in the world of sports today is par for the course.

And while on the subject of overused cliches, how about “change isn’t hard, it’s resisting change, that’s what’s hard.” Yes, my default setting as a sports traditionalist is one who resists even the slightest change to the games I care most about.

So maybe what I need to do is stop overthinking things, and just listen to Casey Stengel, who gave us “it’s a round ball, and a round bat, and you’ve gotta hit it square.”

Because it really seems like, despite all my resisting, the winds of change are swirling more relentlessly than ever in the world of sports right now. In fact, when I really stop and think, the only change I’ve managed to resist with some success over the years has been the adaptation of the Designated Hitter rule by the National League. And while the tradition of pitchers wielding a bat holds on by barely a thread, any satisfaction I may gain from that small victory is tempered when I realize that adaptation of a Universal DH is the one change that would have benefitted my New York Mets in 2021.

But such is life when you are a Mets fan. So anyway, what follows is SportsAttic’s take on some of the more notable changes going on in the world of sports today — we anxiously await your reactions:

*NBA Play-in TournamentDISLIKE — Adding playoff teams never spells improvement to me. And despite protestations from “The Association’s” league office that play-in games aren’t actual playoff contests… c’mon man, then what the heck are they? These are games being played after the regular season has concluded, so to me that constitutes a playoff round. And by adding this extra layer, all we’ve really done is reward a few sub-.500 teams for their abject mediocrity by televising more of their games and bringing them (and the NBA) additional revenues. All for the benefit of seeing the survivors get blown out in the second round of the playoffs by a more deserving squad. I mean, does anyone really anticipate the Charlotte Hornets taking more than a game from the Sixers in Round 2? As bad as this may seem, there is one redeeming quality to the 2021 play-in format. As of this writing, LeBron James and the Lakers appear headed for the play-in contests, where they will likely have to open against Golden State and red hot Steph Curry. Go Dubs! Ah, silver linings…

*NFL Goes to a 17-game Schedule — LIKE — Yes, even a traditionalist like me is willing to accept with open arms more winter Sundays filled with pro football. Especially when the giveback is a couple of meaningless preseason games. I no longer hold season tickets for any pro football teams, but back when I did, I found it ridiculous that we were required to purchase preseason games as part of the package. Moving to 17 games is an improvement for the players (who for years have sought a shorter preseason schedule) and the fans (who get more meaningful games), even if having an odd number of games does feel a bit unsettling as it rattles around my OCD brain (okay, so there used to be 14 games, then it was 16 for a really long time, and now…). But that’s okay — it’s more football. I’ll get used to it.

*MLB Continues its Policies of Seven-inning Double-Headers and Extra Inning Contests Beginning With a Runner on Second — HATE — Sorry, but seven-inning baseball games are bullshit. Full stop. The strategy and cadence of the National Pastime both get watered down and altered in unflattering ways when we shorten the length of play by nearly 25 percent. And if you subscribe (as I do) to the theory that 99% of double-headers end in a split, the shorter game format has the potential to negatively impact pennant races over the course of a 162-game season, should certain teams play more twin bills than other teams in their division. Not to mention it’s shitty for the fan experience, too, as the lineups being tossed out there in Game 2’s around MLB are full of scrubs and recent call ups that should embarrass the responsible franchises and their managers. Yet somehow the new double-header rule isn’t the worst atrocity taking place in Major League Baseball today. The extra inning leadoff runner is an even worse abomination. If we are going to bastardize the rules to get games to a speedier conclusion, why not really go for it. How about if a game ends tied after nine innings each manager selects three non-pitchers to take the mound for his team. Clear the field except for the six chosen position players and each team’s catcher. Then, one by one, all six players get a turn to rear back and fire three pitches as hard as they can, with their speed being monitored by the stadium radar gun. Nine total pitches would be thrown per team, with the player that lights up the gun with the highest velocity fastball earning the win. And here’s the catch — all players must throw with their non-throwing hand. Imagine the fun! Preposterous, you say? Exactly…

Okay, I feel better now. Thanks for playing, and let’s hear your opinions on these and other changes taking place across your favorite sports.

While we wait for your cards and letters, here’s hoping the NBA Gods have a sense of humor and see to it that LeBron stays tethered to that seventh slot in the west.

Cheers!