Friday, January 1, 2016

New York Sports: 2015 Dysfunction Junction

Here are the 9 major league sports teams of the New York Tri-State Area, ranked in ascending order of current dysfunction:

9. New York Islanders.
The Good: The Isles not only are playing well, but look from the top down like they know what they're doing. The arena situation is settled for at least the next 50 years. They seem to have sound management in place in owner Charles Wang, GM Garth Snow and head coach Jack Capuano. They have good young players that the fans believe in, led by captain John Tavares. They've got a little Playoff experience. And they're actually ahead of the Rangers so far in the 2015-16 season.
The Bad: They haven't proven anything yet. Said Playoff experience is minimal. This is a team that, since the players from their early 1980s dynasty got old in the late 1980s, has never enjoyed prosperity for long, so their current good form could well be a mirage. Nor have Capuano or Snow proven anything in the long term. 
Dysfunction Level: 4.
8. New York Jets.

The Good: Owner Woody Johnson fixed the team's 2 most visible issues: Firing GM John Idzik and head coach Rex Ryan. New GM Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles have them in a great situation, where beating the Buffalo Bills in the regular season finale will have them at 11-5 and in the Playoffs. (Even if they lose, they could still make the Playoffs if the Pittsburgh Steelers lose to the Cleveland Browns, which is unlikely, but the Steelers have been inconsistent this season.)
Ryan Fitzpatrick has stepped in at quarterback, and, with a long but undistinguished career behind him, surprised a lot of people. The defense is better without Rex, too. The win over the arch-rival New England Patriots is a big confidence booster. Even if they don't make the Playoffs, they'll be 10-6, which I think most Jet fans would have taken in the preseason, after Geno Smith's injury and his lousy 2014 season. Considering they were a 9.8 out of 10 on my dysfunction scale last season, to be 10-6 and have just missed the Playoffs would be a huge leap forward for Gang Green. And the stadium situation is settled for at least the next 50 years.
The Bad: They're still the Jets: Just as the Giants have you believing that, no matter how bad they are, they can turn it around, the Jets have you believing that, no matter how good things look, they will blow up in your face.
Dysfunction Level: 4. It would probably be a 3 or even a 2, if it weren't for this franchise's spotty history.
7. New York Rangers.
The Good: Alain Vigneault is a good head coach, and GM Glen Sather hasn't made too many missteps the last few seasons. They have genuine superstars in Marc Staal, Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist. They're battle-tested, having gotten to a Stanley Cup Finals and an additional Eastern Conference Finals in the preceding 3 seasons. Aside from Dan Boyle (who's 39) and Dominic Moore (35), they're a fairly young team. Despite all the Devils achieved from 1995 to 2012, right now, they'd love to have the Rangers' problems, if the Rangers' strengths came with them.
The Bad: Charles Dolan is still letting his son James be the operating owner. Lundqvist is still a choker when it counts, and only an idiot would call him a "king." The whole team showed a lack of heart in losing to the Devils in the 2012 Conference Finals and folding in overtime to the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals. For all the talent that the Rangers have had since the 1994 Stanley Cup, in 21 years they have proven very little: The only banners they've hung in that stretch are a Division title in 2012 and the Conference title from 2014.
And, alone among the 6 venues that will be in use in the Tri-State Area starting in October 2015, the arena situation is up in the air for the Rangers and Knicks: The current Madison Square Garden's lease is up in 2023, and the City government wants a new Penn Station on the site of the Farley Post Office (across 8th Avenue from the current Garden and Station) very, very, very, very badly. And, having just spent more money to "transform" The Garden than (even with inflation factored in) it took to build the thing from scratch in the 1960s, even though they can afford to start all over again, the Dolans are not keen on having to do so -- which they might have to do within the next couple of years, given how long it generally takes to get sports buildings erected around here.
(I'm still surprised that the new Yankee Stadium, Citi Field and MetLife Stadium opened on time. The Barclays Center sure didn't. The Devils had to spend the first month of the 2007-08 season on the road because the Prudential Center wasn't going to be ready in time. Nor did Ebbets Field or Shea Stadium open when they should have, and there were still a few wrinkles to work out on Opening Day of the renovated old Yankee Stadium in 1976.)
Still, even with the Garden question unsettled, the Rangers are better off than most teams in the Area. Dysfunction Level: 5. If we knew what was going to happen with The Garden, this would be no more than a 3.
6. New York Yankees. 
The Good: Management is stable: Hank Steinbrenner is operating owner, Brian Cashman is general manager, Joe Girardi is field manager; all have things to prove, but all have proven things before. Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira are back to where they were in 2012. New acquisition Starlin Castro joins A-Rod, Teix, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, and last year's rookie sensations Greg Bird and Rob Refsnyder to form the best lineup in baseball.
The starting rotation of Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and Luis Severino, plus spot starter/long reliever Ivan Nova, might not be the best in baseball, but, given full health, it's easily the best in New York and the best in the American League Eastern Division. The bullpen, with the addition of Aroldis Chapman, to 2015 closer Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances and Chasen Shreve, is the best in baseball even if Miller gets traded. The stadium situation is settled for at least the next 50 years.
The Bad: Veteran leadership is an issue in the wake of the retirements of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. Injuries are still an issue for stars like Beltran and CC, the latter having gone through alcohol rehab at the end of last season. All 5 guys in the rotation are very good if healthy, but are currently injury-induced question marks. The horrible Branden Pinder is still in the bullpen, following in the traditions of Jeff Weaver, Scott Proctor, Kyle Farnsworth and Boone Logan.
The domestic violence accusation against Chapman has replaced A-Rod's PED use as the biggest cloud over the team, although he's never been formally charged. Beltran, Ellsbury, Headley, and, to a lesser extent, Gardner -- along with A-Rod, 1 of the last 2 players to have played home games at the old Yankee Stadium, and with CC and Teix the last 4 to have been on the last title team in 2009 -- are question marks. And A-Rod did disappear in the clutch again, and he is 40 (he'll turn 41 in July).
The American League East is as balanced as it's been since the late 1980s; there is no creampuff team in the Division. And just because Hank, Cash and Joe are in charge doesn't mean all of them should be.
Dysfunction Level: 5. The Yankees, however wobbly they got in and however feebly they played once in, did make the Playoffs in 2015, and are in better shape than they were in a year ago. If the injuries clear up, and everybody plays the way they were expected to, this could drop to a 2 -- through September, and October would be likely. But in October, with the history that some of these guys have, it would go back up to a 4.
5. New Jersey Devils.

The Good: New GM Ray Shero and new head coach John Hynes have the Mulberry Street Marauders much-improved. If the current standings hold to the end of the season, the Devils would make the Playoffs for the 1st time in 4 years. Patrik Elias is nearly 40, but still provides a solid contribution. He, new Captain Andy Greene, Travis Zajac, Jordin Tootoo, Michael Cammalieri and the newly-acquired Lee Stempniak provide talent and veteran leadership. 
There's some good young talent, including both goalies, Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid. (Hard to believe, but replacing the great Martin Brodeur turned out not to be a major issue.)
The ownership and finance issues, which for the 2nd time in 19 years raised the possibility (even with the Prudential Center) of the NHL allowing the Devils to be moved out of the Tri-State Area, have been put to rest. The arena situation is settled for the next 50 years; while we don't know how far the team is going, as far as the Playoffs are concerned (if at all), the franchise isn't going anywhere.
The Bad: The team is owned by Apollo Global Management, an investment firm, with Joshua Harris as operating owner. Through him, AGM also owns the 76ers. The Sixers, for the 2nd season in a row, are threatening to break the record they set themselves in 1973 by going 9-73. So, as much as the Devils might seem to still be struggling, they're not the worst team their owners own. But how discouraging is it that the Sixers' owners also own the Devils?
Dysfunction Level: Dropped from a 7 at Christmas 2014 to 5 at Christmas 2015. They're moving in the right direction, but they need to pick up speed.
4. New York Giants.
The Good: Of all 9 franchises, since getting their house in order in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Giants have given off the greatest continuous aura of competence. Even when they've been bad, as they are now, an objective observer would tend to believe that the system is in place where they could get better. Co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch are sound men, and not meddlers. General manager Jerry Reese usually knows what he's doing.

Eli Manning is still a competent quarterback. Odell Beckham Jr. gives the team hope. And the defense, when healthy, is as good as any in the NFL. The stadium situation is settled for at least the next 50 years, so there's no danger of the Giants moving.

The Bad: Eli may well be in decline. The running game is not good. The defense has serious injury issues. 
Head coach Tom Coughlin is said to be about to be fired, and seems like an old man whom the game has passed by. The NFC East was as weak this season as it has been since it was formed after the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, and was there for the taking, and the Giants couldn't win it.
Dysfunction Level: 6. Once a new head coach is hired, this will drop to a 3. The Giants need work, but a new coach will inspire confidence.
3. New York Knicks. 
The Good: Phil Jackson is (supposedly) in charge. Derek Fisher had no coaching experience coming into the 2014-15 season, and it showed, but he seems to have settled in. Carmelo Anthony is still capable of being one of the most exciting players in the game. Kristaps Porziņģis is a sensation and a drawing card. The team is 15-18, in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, but only 3 1/2 games behind the 8th-place Boston Celtics. Given the right breaks, the Knickerbockers could make the Playoffs. They're hardly title contenders at the moment, but they look like they've turned the corner.
The Bad: James Dolan and Isiah Thomas are still involved. The Knicks have won just 1 Playoff series in Dolan's 15 seasons in charge (this is the 16th). 'Melo is a selfish player, not a team guy. And, in spite of Porziņģis, is there any player on the Knick roster likely to make an opponent say, "Aw no, I don't wanna play against him"?
And then, of course, there's the question of where the Knicks are going to play when The Garden's current lease runs out. Can you imagine the Knicks playing a home game anyplace not named Madison Square Garden? Can you imagine the Knicks playing at the Barclays Center? Or in the Prudential Center -- the New York Knickerbockers in New Jersey? If the Dolans and The City don't come to some sort of agreement soon, it may come to that.
Dysfunction Level: 6 -- the lowest it's been since Jeff Van Gundy was last the head coach, in 2001. But there's a long way to go.
2. New York Mets.

The Good: GM Sandy Alderson and field manager Terry Collins got the Mets to their 1st Playoff berth in 9 years and their 1st Pennant in 15 years. The Mets have David Wright who, in the wake of several Yankee retirements and A-Rod's suspension, is now, beyond any question, the biggest baseball star in New York. (This is the first time the Mets have had that since Tom Seaver's 1983 comeback; even at the Mets' peak, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were not bigger than Don Mattingly.)
The pitching staff, led by Matt Harvey, is one of the most highly-rated in baseball: Barring a disastrous injury patch, they'll be in enough games for a bullpen, should it get no worse than it is right now, to not blow too many games. The stadium situation is settled for at least the next 50 years.

The Bad: A lot worse than a returning Pennant-winner would have you think. The only times they got seriously challenged all season long were by the Yankees (taking 4 of the 6 Interleague games, including 2 out of 3 at Citi Field), by Chase Utley in the National League Division Series (the 1 game the Mets lost in that series), and by the Kansas City Royals in the World Series (which went 5 games, and it wasn't as close as the Yankees' 5-game Series win over the Mets in 2000). The NL Eastern Division did not stand up to the Mets in the regular season. Nor did the Dodgers (except for Utley) in the NLDS. Nor did the Chicago Cubs in the NL Championship Series. When teams did stand up to the Mets, they folded like lawn chairs. Unlike their 1969, 1973, 1986 and 2000 Pennant-winners, these Mets are a gutless bunch.
Indeed, marquee man Wright disappeared when it counted again: People joked about Stephen Drew batting just .201 in the regular season, but Wright batted .185 in the postseason. If the 1980s' George Steinbrenner was the 2010s' Met owner, Wright would have a one-way ticket to Palookaville by now. And one thing The Boss would not have done is let the 2 biggest reasons the team made the Playoffs at all get away. But Daniel Murphy has already signed with the Washington Nationals -- the Mets' main NL East threat in 2015 and probably again in 2016 -- and Yoenis Cespedes is a free agent, currently rumored to be headed to the Chicago White Sox. Take Murphy and Cespedes out of the Mets' lineup, and it's like taking David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez (or, at least, their performance-enhancing drugs) off the 2000s Red Sox: A recipe for disaster.
The starting rotation of Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Bartolo Colon (who will be 42 in May) got horribly exposed in the World Series. If the Yankees' rotation is fully healthy, not one of the Mets' starters would crack it. (Granted, that's a big if, but the Yankees' rotation is considerably better.) And the Mets' bullpen, as it usually has been since Jesse Orosco's glove came down from the '86 Series, is awful.
And, of course, Fred Wilpon is still letting son Jeff be the operating owner, and the Wilpons make the Dolans look brilliant by comparison. The team's finances are still in disarray, which explains why they didn't re-sign Murphy, haven't re-signed Cespedes and don't look likely to, and haven't signed any big-name free agents, despite having the allure of New York and a Pennant. The chances of signing, say, Justin Verlander or Mike Trout when their contracts run out are remote at best. 
Dysfunction Level: 8. Believe it.

1. Brooklyn Nets.
The Good: Not much. They have Brook Lopez. The arena situation is settled for the next 50 years. And... um... well, the Knicks aren't yet good enough to be a big distraction.
The Bad: At 9-23, only the 3-31 76ers and the 6-27 Los Angeles Lakers have worse records in the NBA. By the standards Mikhail Prokhorov set when he bought the team, this is unacceptable, especially since this is now his 6th year as majority owner, and their 4th season as the lead team in their arena (something they haven't been since the Devils got good for the 1st time in 1988). Lionel Hollins was a very good player, but he's not much of a coach. After Lopez, their next-best players are 34-year-old Joe Johnson and 32-year-old Jarrett Jack.
The NBA's Eastern Conference is no longer weak: Even the 12th-place Knicks are only 3 games under .500. The ownership situation appears to be less settled than it was a year ago: While Prokhorov (who owns 80 percent) and Bruce Ratner (who owns the other 20 percent) can afford to keep a New York sports team running, Prokhorov is rumored to be interested in selling. And despite Brooklyn's reputation as a basketball hotbed, the Nets' average attendance is only 14,818 per home game.
Dysfunction Level: 9. Indeed, like part-owner Jay-Z once claimed for himself, the Nets may well have 99 problems.
So, to recap:

9. Islanders, down from a 5 last year to a 4 this year
8. Jets, down from 9.8 to 4
7. Rangers, staying at 5
6. Yankees, down from 6 to 5
5. Devils, down from 6 to 5
4. Giants, up from 4 to 6
3. Knicks, down from 9 to 6
2. Mets, up from 7 to 8 despite winning a Pennant
1. Nets, up from 5 to 9

Only 2 teams went up from last year's rating. That the Mets are 1 of them will shock some of you. But, be honest: The organization is still heavily screwed-up. They benefited from a weak Division and some career years, and, without their 2 best bats, 1 of whom went to their main Divisional challengers, are in a substantially weaker position.

Look at the bright side: At least they're better off than the Nets.

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