Sunday, March 12, 2017

Dysfunction Junction, Spring 2017 Edition

In today's New York Daily News, Mike Lupica wrote a column with the title, "Knicks, Jets stand together as New York's only two hopeless franchises":

The Giants signed Brandon Marshall this week, which means they signed the kind of big fast wide receiver Eli Manning has always loved, and maybe needed, and got a lot better in the process, especially when you imagine Marshall lining up on the other side of the field from Odell Beckham Jr.

This backs up something I've said many times: No matter how bad they get, the Giants give the impression that they will be able to turn it around soon; but, no matter how good they get, the Jets always manage to futz it up.

The Mets will begin the season with great promise, and all those young arms, and the Yankees hope they have enough pitching to go with all the stick they are showing from their young guys in spring training. 

The Mets' young arms have brought them 1 Pennant and 1 Wild Card berth. But that's mainly because the rest of the National League Eastern Division is questionable at best. They will not make the Playoffs this season. The Yankees, on the other hand, are 1 more good starting pitcher away from being title contenders again. If, that is, general manager Brian Cashman doesn't trade yet another Playoff berth away for 117 "prospects" at least 2 years away from seeing the light of day, if at all.

But what if you are a fan of the Jets, or the Knicks? Where is the hope for you these days?
With the Jets and the Knicks what possible proof is there that things are going to become markedly better anytime soon? You know what fans of those teams have to hope sometimes? That there was a way to replace the current management of their team, and that means coaches too.
The Knicks have essentially been a joke since 2001, haven't been to the Finals since 1999, and haven't won an NBA Championship since 1973. The Jets should be so lucky: They won the Super Bowl in 1969, and the best they've done since is 4 trips to the AFC Championship Game, the last of those in 2011.

But are they the only 2 "hopeless franchises" out of the 9 in the New York Tri-State Area? I'm not going to count the WNBA's Liberty or MLS' Red Bulls and New York City FC, just the "Big Four" sports.

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 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. Co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch are sound men, and not meddlers. General manager Jerry Reese usually knows what he's doing, and head coach Ben McAdoo has his head on straight.

Eli Manning is still a competent quarterback. Odell Beckham Jr. and now Brandon Edwards give 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. The NFC East was as weak this past 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. (Don't tell me the Dallas Cowboys were a great team: The Green Bay Packers dusted them off, and the Pack were hardly the best team in the NFC.)

Dysfunction Level: 3. The Giants need work, but not nearly as much as some other teams in the Tri-State Area. Or even in their own stadium.

8. 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 3 years ago and 2 other Eastern Conference Finals, 2 and 5 years ago. At 35, Lundqvist is their oldest player, so 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, which is also the biggest problem with the Knicks. 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 their recent Playoff losses. For all the talent that the Rangers have had since the 1994 Stanley Cup, in 23 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 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.

7. New York Mets.

The Good: GM Sandy Alderson and field manager Terry Collins have gotten the Mets to Playoffs the last 2 seasons, including a Pennant. 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 Playoff team would have you think. We've seen the Mets fold when they get seriously challenged, including by the Yankees in Interleague Play. They have so many injuries, Arsenal send them sympathy cards. David Wright may never again be the great player Met fans thought he was. Jose Reyes is back, but he, too, is a shadow of his former self, which wasn't what Met fans purported it to be, anyway. Their 2 big power threats are Yoenis Cespedes, who could get busted for steroid use at any time, and, being from the Caribbean, may not be as young as the 31 that is claimed for him; and Curtis Granderson, who turns 36 this week -- and there's no designated hitter in the National league.

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 question: They re-signed Cespedes, but not Daniel Murphy, nor any other 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: 5.

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. Catcher Gary Sanchez is a phenomenon. Most of the infield is set, with Greg Bird back from injury at 1st base, Starlin Castro at 2nd, and Didi Gregorius at shortstop. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are fine in the outfield, and Aaron Judge looks ready to take on the world. Matt Holliday gives them a good DH.

The top 4 starters -- Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Luis Severino -- are as good as any in baseball, if they're all healthy. The bullpen, with the return of Aroldis Chapman, will allow Dellin Betances to not have the pressure of being the closer. 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, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. The rotation is full of injury-related question marks. There is no pitcher who could even be considered remotely dependable as the 5th starter. (Luis Cessa? Chad Green? Bryan Mitchell? None of those guys was impressive last season.) The bullpen, other than Chapman and Betances, is a disgrace, meaning that if a starter doesn't pitch 7 full innings, the Yankees are in serious trouble.

Sanchez could well fall victim to the stereotypical sophomore slump. Judge might flame out like Dan Pasqua, Kevin Maas and Shane Spencer. Bird might not be fully back from a season-long injury. They need a better 3rd baseman than Chase Headley, and Ronald Torreyes is far from proving that he's it.

As for all those prospects that Cashman traded away two Pennants for (by giving away Chapman to the Chicago Cubs and Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians), the soonest we'll see any of them is September callups in 2018 (which means, even if the Yankees do make the postseason next year, they won't be eligible for it), and they could all turn out to be Hensley Meulenses or Alfonso Pulidos -- or, worse, Brien Taylors. Essentially, Cashman traded away Goldman Sachs for a bunch of tech startups.

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. Yes, there's a lot of promise. But it could also all blow up. In other words, congratulations, Mets: You are now the equal of the Yankees.

5. New York Islanders.

The Good: The Isles are playing decently, currently 1 point out of the last Playoff spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference. More than that, they look from the top down like they know what they're doing. They seem to have sound management in place in owner Charles Wang, GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight. They have good young players that the fans believe in, led by captain John Tavares. They've got a little Playoff experience.

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 Weight or Snow proven anything in the long term. And Weight was just brought in, as they recently fired head coach Jack Capuano.

What's more, the arena situation, which looked like it was settled for at least the next 50 years, is no longer. It is very possible that, at the start of the 2019-20 season, the Isles won't be playing at the Barclays Center. Will it be at a renovated Nassau Coliseum? A new arena in the Tri-State Area (which would require more than 3 off-seasons, and thus an extension on the Barclays Center lease)? Or out of the Tri-State Area altogether? Kansas City? Seattle? Portland? Could the Islanders become the new Quebec Nordiques?

Dysfunction Level: 6.

4. New Jersey Devils.

The Good: GM Ray Shero and head coach John Hynes have the Mulberry Street Marauders much-improved. Captain Andy Greene, goaltender Cory Schneider, Travis Zajac, Michael Cammalieri and 2012 Playoff hero Adam Henrique provide talent and veteran leadership.

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: Despite clear improvement, the Devils are not a Playoff team yet. With 62 points, and 28 points left to play for, they are 14 points out of a Playoff spot, last in the Eastern Conference, and 3rd-worst in the NHL. And it's hard to say what they need more: One game, they get goals, but their defense collapses; the next, the defense properly backs Schneider up, but there's precious little (if any) scoring. They seem to have no passion. There's no Scott Stevens on the team -- no great defender, no enforcer, no guy who will tell his own teammates that what they're doing is not good enough. Stevens was all 3, but they don't have any 1 of those.

Also, the team is owned by Apollo Global Management, an investment firm, with Joshua Harris as operating owner. Through him, AGM also owns the 76ers, who are one of the biggest messes in North American Sports right now.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: 6. "It could be worse" is no longer good enough. Hynes needs to go, and Shero needs to go to work in the off-season.

3. New York Knicks. 

The Good: Phil Jackson is still (supposedly) the genius who won 6 NBA Championships coaching the Chicago Bulls, and 5 more coaching the Los Angeles Lakers. Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah are still very good players. Kristaps Porziņģis is a sensation and a drawing card. And... that's it.

The Bad: James Dolan and Isiah Thomas are still involved. The Knicks have won just 1 Playoff series in Dolan's 16 seasons in charge (this is the 17th). Jackson won those titles as a coach, not as a GM. Jerry Krause built the champion Bulls, Jerry West the champion Lakers. Phil's never built a team, and all his studies of alternative cultures, while personally edifying, hasn't taught him how.

'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: 8 -- not quite as bad as Lupica thinks it is, but about what they've usually been in the 21st Century. If Porziņģis goes down to an injury that will keep him out of most or all of the 2017-18 season, it could be a bloodbath.

2. New York Jets.

The Good: Um... well... The stadium situation is settled for at least the next 50 years. And head coach Todd Bowles isn't a lunatic like Rex Ryan.

The Bad: The Jets need a quarterback. Geno Smith wasn't the answer, nor was Ryan Fitzpatrick, and if you think Jay Cutler will be, then you belong to a different kind of "Gang Green," the potsmokers. And quarterback is hardly their only issue. They don't got no running game. They lost Brandon Marshall, their only reliable receiver. They have not one single defensive player who worries opponents -- and that includes Darrell Revis, whom they've let go after a season in which he was 31 years old but looked 37.

The Jets went 5-11 in 2016. Who did they beat? The Buffalo Bills (7-9), the Baltimore Ravens (8-8), the Cleveland Browns (1-15), the San Francisco 49ers (2-14), and the Bills again. So that's 3 wins against teams that had shots at the Playoffs, and 2 others against teams with a combined 3 wins.

Dysfunction Level: 9. And for the Jets, that's only a little worse than standard operating procedure.

1. Brooklyn Nets.

The Good: Not much. They have Brook Lopez, and the former Knick one-brief-shining-moment guy Jeremy Lin. 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: They are 11-53, the worst record in the NBA. They are 20 1/2 games out of a Playoff spot. Due to dumb trades, they don't have a pick in the NBA Draft until the 24th place, so even if there were a can't-miss top pick, they wouldn't have a chance at him even if they hit the "draft lottery." Their roster currently consists of Lopez, Lin, and 13 guys named K.J. McDaniels.

By the standards that Mikhail Prokhorov set when he bought the team, this is unacceptable, especially since this is now his 7th year as majority owner, and their 5th season as the lead team in their arena (something they haven't been since the Devils got good for the 1st time in 1988). Kenny Atkinson had a nothing career as a player, and he's well on the way to a nothing career as a head coach. And despite Brooklyn's reputation as a basketball hotbed, the Nets' average attendance is only 15,338 per home game, 3rd-worst in the league.

Dysfunction Level: 9. Indeed, like part-owner Jay-Z once claimed for himself, the Nets may well have 99 problems.


So here's the rankings:

1. Nets, 9 and getting worse.
2. Jets, 9 and getting worse.
3. Knicks, 8 and getting worse.
4. Devils, 6 and holding steady after some improvement.
5. Islanders, 6 and holding steady after some improvement.
6. Yankees, 5 and wobbly.
7. Mets, 5 and wobbly.
8. Rangers, 5 and holding steady.
9. Giants, 3 and holding steady.

Again, the Giants are the picture of competence, if not of success; while the Jets and the 2 NBA teams are in shambles.

If you're a gloryhunter, at the moment, your best bets are: The Giants in the NFL, the Rangers in the NHL, the Knicks in the NBA (if only because of Porziņģis), and, in MLB, it's a toss-up. If the Yankees find that 5th starter, though, then they become not just better, but noticeably better, than the Mets.

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