Monthly Archives: April 2008

PAT RILEY, GREATEST COACH EVER?

                                                             Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas       

Pat Riley’s time to retire not only is here, but was actually here two years ago right after he stole an NBA Championship from the Dallas Mavericks (and it looks like the Mavericks won’t get another chance).  Rather than go out on top, he chose to struggle along for two more years before he saw the light.

But it says here that Pat Riley is one of the greatest coaches ever, maybe the greatest coach ever.  Preposterous, you say?  Wait just a minute.    

Riley enters the conversation because of his four titles with the Lakers.  Of course, many believe that anybody could have coached the Magic-Kareem-Worthy Lakers and, while that’s a decent argument, the reality is that to be a great coach and win NBA titles, you need great players (Red Auerbach – Russell, Cousy and the rest; Phil Jackson – Jordan and Pippen, Shaq and Kobe, to name two great coaches).    

But Riley’s ability goes way beyond four titles with the Lakers (plus a fifth with the Heat).  What he did, which puts him in the conversation for greatest coach ever, is CHANGE THE WAY THE GAME IS PLAYED IN THE NBA.      

Now, we may not have liked it, but when Riley coached first the Knicks and then the Heat, he changed the league from the up tempo “Showtime” Lakers to the defensive “let’s make the game a rugby scrum” New York Knicks.  People still actually believe there was a “rivalry” between the Bulls of Jordan and Pippen and the Knicks of Patrick Ewing and … well, not that much else.  There really wasn’t, yet Riley made everybody in the league, including the Bulls, scratch and claw for every basket.  If he had coached the Knicks the way he coached the Lakers, the Knicks would have been non-contenders.  But he did great things with the Knicks during the regular season and at least made the Bulls sweat during the Jordan years.  He even got the Knicks to a Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Rockets (in a Jordan-retired year, of course).    

He then worked similar magic with a Miami Heat team that also wasn’t really that good.  When Tim Hardaway could play on two legs, Alonzo Mourning wasn’t quite yet ALONZO MOURNING.  By the time Mourning became a star, Tim Hardaway was essentially playing on one leg.  The only time the Heat could beat the Jeff Van Gundy-coached Knicks was when half the Knicks got suspended in 1997.  Again, a “great” rivalry that really wasn’t as great as it was cracked up to be.    

So, the reason that Riley is in the conversation as greatest coach is because he’s the most diverse NBA coach ever (Showtime Lakers v. Scrum Knicks) and, the icing on the cake, his delivery, as promised, of a title to Miami, another franchise he turned from pretenders to contenders.    

Does Riley have his downside?  You betcha.  Faxing in his Knicks resignation was bush league, to say the least.  Cutting the legs out from under Stan Van Gundy to replace him as coach (right when Shaq was coming back from injury) during Miami’s title season in 2005-06 was nauseating, especially to those of us who always thought Stan Van Gundy would be an excellent NBA coach (he’s showing that now with Orlando).  But in the big picture, this guy won five titles and did even better work with two franchises that simply didn’t have a talent level high enough to realistically compete for an NBA title.    

To stay for this final 15-67 disaster in Miami was another mistake.  But I don’t think you can find another coach with Pat Riley’s success who made teams that he coached better and literally changed (for better or worse) the way the game was played in the NBA in the 1990s.    

Pat Riley, greatest coach ever?  You can certainly make a case for him.       

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved. 

THE BIGGEST HARNESS RACE OF THE YEAR TO DATE HAS PANARAMIC ART IN AND MALTESE ARTIST AND BONO BESTS OUT

                                                                            Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas   

 

They raced three $50,000 divisions in the final preliminary leg of the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series on Saturday, April 27th, at Yonkers Raceway.  The real question was who would (and who wouldn’t) make the estimated $400,000 Final on Saturday, May 3rd, the biggest (and richest) harness race of the year to date.

    

The first division had contender Panaramic Art having to win to guarantee a spot in the Final.  Panaramic Art did just that, winning in 1:52.3 to move into 5th place overall.

    

The second division went to, arguably, the best horse in the country right now.  Bono Bests had won his only prior Levy start and was monstrous last week in winning the $100,000 Battle of Lake Erie at Northfield.  But not racing at Yonkers last week cost him all chance to make the Final next week.  While he won in 1:52.3, his point total (50 points for winning plus 25 points for just racing, giving him 150 for the series) only put him in 12th place.  Had he raced at Yonkers last week and finished first or second, he would have made the $400,000 Final.

    

In the third division, defending Levy champ Maltese Artist also had to win to guarantee a spot in the Final.  But last year’s runner-up (and this year’s points leader) Special Report had other ideas, sending notice that he’s back by pacing his last half-mile in a stunning 54.4 to win in 1:52 by a neck over Maltese Artist.  The second-place finish (25 for second, 25 for just racing) moved Maltese Artist up to only 166 points and in 10th place.

    

If the top eight drop in for the Final, both Psilvuheartbreaker and Maltese Artist will be on the outside looking in.  However, if all eight don’t drop in, then one or possibly both could sneak in, an unlikely occurrence.

    

    

FINAL POINTS STANDINGS (50 Win, 25 Second, 12 Third, 8 Fourth, 5 Fifth plus 25 additional points every time a horse races, Top 8 make the Final):

    

  •      1)  Special Report        283
  •      2)  Took Hanover        258
  •      3)  Mypanmar              219
  •      4)  Palone Ranger        208
  •      5)  Panaramic Art        200
  •      6)  Rare Jewel             199
  •      7)  Radar Installed N   196
  •      8)  Tarver Hanover      188

     Also eligible (if any of the top 8 don’t drop in):

 

  •      9)    Psilvuheartbreaker  187
  •    10)  Maltese Artist          166     
  •    11)  Home Run Hudson  158
  •    12)  Bono Bests              150
  •    13)  Gold Dust Beach      137
  •    14) Royal Man         105      (only horses with over 100 points listed)

  •   

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved. 

DON’T WASTE TOO MUCH TIME ON VIRTUALLY IRRELEVANT DRAFT “ANALYSIS”

                                                                            Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas   

 

The big day is coming:  Saturday, April 26 – The NFL Draft.  But what do you really learn from the “expert” analysis that comes at you from 1,000 different places.  Do these “experts” really understand?  Do they really know what they’re talking about?  Does it really matter?

    

It says here that draft day “analysis” of picks, the dreaded “winners and losers” lists in the draft that will come out the day after and the ad nauseum “what a mistake that team made” analyses you’ll hear until you can’t take it anymore, are all virtually irrelevant in the days and weeks right after the draft.  What I mean is, you really have no clue whether a draft selection (or a team’s entire group of selections) is good or bad until at least the next season.  In reality, it often takes three or four years to really know the answer to what “experts” are guessing about on draft day.  And the “experts” are themselves protected, because there is no answer as to whether they are right or not for months or, more likely, years.

    

My favorite proof of this the last few years is none other than Super Bowl-winning quarterback Eli Manning.  Giant fans, for the most part, have been complaining for years that Eli was a poor pick, that the Giants gave up too much for him, that there were other QBs in the 2004 draft who were (and certainly played) better than Eli.  The most a patient Giant fan could say was “give him time, he’s young.”

     

To look at his regular-season stats, even today, one would think it was a terrible pick.  His lifetime completion rate is still only 54.7% (an unimpressive 56.1% in 2007).  His career QB rating (an absurdly mystifying statistic – but that’s for another time) is 73.4 (an unimpressive 73.9 in 2007).  Most fans don’t even know what that means – except to know that it’s not good.

    

But Eli Manning took the Giants to the Promised Land last season.  He did what very few thought he could do – make big post-season plays to come out of the shadow of his brother and his father to win the Super Bowl.  While we all still think that Peyton Manning is a much better quarterback than Eli (and, of course, he is), remember this – in the only real stat that counts (Super Bowl victories), the brothers Manning are tied at one.  Does that make Eli Manning as good as his brother?  No.  Does that make Eli Manning an excellent number one draft pick despite poor stats?  You betcha.  And all the Eli critics have fallen by the wayside.  After all, he won the Super Bowl and was a major factor in the post-season.

    

And speaking of the great Peyton Manning, have we all forgotten the pre-draft hysteria in 1998 over who would be the better pick – Peyton Manning or the forgotten Ryan Leaf?  Yeah, all the Ryan Leaf “experts” are now hanging out with the Eli Manning bashers.  You get the point.

    

Once in a while, you can answer the question on a draft after a season.  An excellent example of this is the 2007 New York Giants.  New general manager Jerry Reese, despite deflecting credit, has correctly been labeled a guy who had a brilliant draft for the Giants.  All of his eight 2007 draft picks made the team and many made huge playoff contributions.  Many of you know how good Aaron Ross (1st round) became at corner and many of you saw the huge post-season contribution of Steve Smith (2nd round – 14 post-season receptions for 152 yards).  But how many of you knew about Jay Alford (3rd round – sack for the ages late in the Super Bowl) or Kevin Boss (5th round – five post-season receptions for 90 yards, including that unforgettable 45-yard romp in the Super Bowl) or Ahmad Bradshaw (7th round – leading Giants post-season rusher) or even long-snapper/linebacker Zak DeOssie (4th round)?  Very few. And even fewer “experts” could even guess that this group would become this good this fast.

    

So remember, as your head starts to spin from people telling you how this team had a “great” draft or that team “missed the boat,” you really won’t know (and neither will they) for, probably, years to come.     

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved. 

PHOENIX DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO DEFEND THE THREE LATE IN THE GAME AND, THUS, LOSES A GREAT CHANCE TO BEAT THE SPURS

                                                                            Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas   

 

 

 

We recently wrote in this column how Memphis’s inability to defend the three-point shot late in the game cost them the National Championship (Sports Plus, April 8).  On Saturday, April 19, Phoenix made the same mistake and it allowed San Antonio to tie the game in OT, a game the Spurs would eventually win.

    

Here’s the situation:  Phoenix up three, Manu Ginobili with the ball across mid-court with about 9.5 seconds left.  Being guarded by the intelligent Steve Nash, the Spurs’ Tim Duncan sets a pick for Ginobili above the three-point line to the right of the top of the key.  As Ginobili comes by the pick (moving to his left), Shaq goes to Ginobili and Nash goes to Ginobili (8 seconds, 7 seconds left) as Ginobili turns the corner going to the basket (6 seconds left).

    

At that time, up three, Phoenix has five defenders BELOW the three-point line.  In 2008, HOW CAN THAT BE?  The only way Phoenix can’t win is if San Antonio hits a three (or if Ginobili gets fouled and makes a layup, but Nash is too smart for that).

    

Phoenix should have (and could have) defended the three-point line.  That is, once Ginobili goes below the three-point line, his two-point field goal (assuming he makes it) CAN’T tie up the game.  Only a three can.  So Shaq never recovers as Ginobili throws it to a wide-open Tim Duncan (5 seconds) who buries his first three of the year (3 seconds left) to send the game into double-overtime.

    

Nobody seems to understand this.  On Sunday on ESPN, none other than Mike Lupica said:  “The Suns have to be thinking, ‘we did everything right on that play, we did not let Ginobili get to the basket, Shaq did the right thing and there’s Tim Duncan.’”  WHAT??

    

“We did not let Ginobili get to the basket.”  That’s a good thing for all but about the last six seconds of a game you’re up by three (like this one).  Play it out.  Ginobili pulls up for a short jumper or goes all the way to the basket.  If he misses a two, the game’s over.  If he makes a two, Phoenix is still ahead and puts the ball in Nash’s great foul-shooting hands with what, three seconds left, two seconds left?  The game is over.

    

“Shaq did the right thing.”  Shaq did the right thing UNLESS it was very late in the game and your team is up three (as in this game).  To switch on the pick is the right thing but to go below the three-point line is frankly, a stupid thing, especially when your man (Duncan) is all alone at the three-point line.

    

If you say that this was Duncan’s only three of the year, you’re, unlike Duncan, badly missing the point.  When you’re up three, if you can get the opposition to shoot from inside the three-point line as close to the buzzer as possible, you’re going to win the game.  If you allow anyone (good or bad from three) to get a wide-open look, you’re asking to lose the game in the next overtime (as Phoenix did).

    
I’ll say it again:  Someday, somewhere, some coach is going to defend the three-point line rather than inside the three-point line.  Once it becomes obvious to coaches, the game will be changed forever – three-point defense in the last seconds of a game will be much different and everyone will fall in line.  Why it hasn’t happened already is beyond me. 

 

 

 

 

We recently wrote in this column how Memphis’s inability to defend the three-point shot late in the game cost them the National Championship (Sports Plus, April 8).  On Saturday, April 19, Phoenix made the same mistake and it allowed San Antonio to tie the game in OT, a game the Spurs would eventually win.

    

Here’s the situation:  Phoenix up three, Manu Ginobili with the ball across mid-court with about 9.5 seconds left.  Being guarded by the intelligent Steve Nash, the Spurs’ Tim Duncan sets a pick for Ginobili above the three-point line to the right of the top of the key.  As Ginobili comes by the pick (moving to his left), Shaq goes to Ginobili and Nash goes to Ginobili (8 seconds, 7 seconds left) as Ginobili turns the corner going to the basket (6 seconds left).

    

At that time, up three, Phoenix has five defenders BELOW the three-point line.  In 2008, HOW CAN THAT BE?  The only way Phoenix can’t win is if San Antonio hits a three (or if Ginobili gets fouled and makes a layup, but Nash is too smart for that).

    

Phoenix should have (and could have) defended the three-point line.  That is, once Ginobili goes below the three-point line, his two-point field goal (assuming he makes it) CAN’T tie up the game.  Only a three can.  So Shaq never recovers as Ginobili throws it to a wide-open Tim Duncan (5 seconds) who buries his first three of the year (3 seconds left) to send the game into double-overtime.

    

Nobody seems to understand this.  On Sunday on ESPN, none other than Mike Lupica said:  “The Suns have to be thinking, ‘we did everything right on that play, we did not let Ginobili get to the basket, Shaq did the right thing and there’s Tim Duncan.’”  WHAT??

    

“We did not let Ginobili get to the basket.”  That’s a good thing for all but about the last six seconds of a game you’re up by three (like this one).  Play it out.  Ginobili pulls up for a short jumper or goes all the way to the basket.  If he misses a two, the game’s over.  If he makes a two, Phoenix is still ahead and puts the ball in Nash’s great foul-shooting hands with what, three seconds left, two seconds left?  The game is over.

    

“Shaq did the right thing.”  Shaq did the right thing UNLESS it was very late in the game and your team is up three (as in this game).  To switch on the pick is the right thing but to go below the three-point line is frankly, a stupid thing, especially when your man (Duncan) is all alone at the three-point line.

    

If you say that this was Duncan’s only three of the year, you’re, unlike Duncan, badly missing the point.  When you’re up three, if you can get the opposition to shoot from inside the three-point line as close to the buzzer as possible, you’re going to win the game.  If you allow anyone (good or bad from three) to get a wide-open look, you’re asking to lose the game in the next overtime (as Phoenix did).

    
I’ll say it again:  Someday, somewhere, some coach is going to defend the three-point line rather than inside the three-point line.  Once it becomes obvious to coaches, the game will be changed forever – three-point defense in the last seconds of a game will be much different and everyone will fall in line.  Why it hasn’t happened already is beyond me. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved. 

 

THE KING IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE KING!

                                                                                     Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas   

Plenty more happened last night than the New York Rangers beating the New Jersey Devils, 5-3,  giving the Rangers a five-game series victory.  It could very well be the end of the glorious run of the Devils as the DEVILS and of Martin Brodeur as MARTIN BRODEUR.

    

With three Stanley Cups and an old-time goalie’s iron man approach to hockey (even when other teams were playing two goalies with some regularity, Brodeur seemed to play every game), Martin Brodeur is a sure-fire Hall of Famer once he hangs up his skates.  But he certainly gave up a number of soft goals in the Ranger series (both Barry Melrose on ESPN and Joe Micheletti of MSG Network kept saying “Marty wishes he could have that one back”).  Accused for years of being a “system” goalie as the Devils played the dreaded trap to perfection, it’s become clear over the last seven or eight years that Brodeur is much more than that – in fact, an all-time great goaltender. 

    

The problem for him (and the Devils), frankly, is the quality of the defense put in front of him.  Gone to retirement are the Hall of Famer Scott Stevens and the excellent Ken Daneyko.  Gone to other teams are the great Scott Niedermayer and the vastly underrated Brian Rafalski.  These guys simply can’t be replaced and haven’t been replaced, even with money-saving genius Lou Lamoriello at the helm.

    

On the other side, the New York Rangers are coming like a freight train.  While it’s true that the additions of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury were crucial, the key to it all, as it usually is in hockey, is the ascension of King Henrik Lundqvist.  Non-hockey fans simply don’t understand the importance of the quality of your top goalie.  Frankly, it’s like starting your number one pitcher every game.

    

So Lundqvist, with very brief time-period exceptions, has been a top NHL goaltender since he came into the league.  He was an NHL “rookie” like Ichiro was a baseball rookie – he was a star in the Swedish Elite League before he came to the Rangers and has an Olympic Gold Medal.

    

While the Rangers charged the net, shot the puck (finally) and caused Brodeur all kinds of problems (separate and apart from the Sean Avery fiasco), it seemed like the Devils had to shoot the puck off a Ranger to score (the game-winning goal in their only victory plus goals two and three that got them back to 4-3 in Game 5).  But Lundqvist put down the hammer and sent a message by stopping tricky John Madden on a penalty shot after all the momentum had shifted to the Devils.  It’s not Mike Richter stopping Vancouver’s Pavel Bure in 1994, but it was the final nail in the Devil’s coffin as they seemed about to crawl out of it.

    

Some Ranger fans feared that the acquisition of Scott Gomez would be the second coming of the disappointing (as a Ranger) Bobby Holik, but that hasn’t happened.  In fact, just the subtraction of Gomez from the Devils was a great blow to their winning system.  In addition, even though Jaromir Jagr obviously missed the underrated Michael Nylander earlier in the season, Jagr has come around and is playing like a superstar again.  Maybe, like many NBA players, he was just waiting for the playoffs.

    

But it all comes back to Lundqvist.  Intelligent, clutch, fundamentally sound, he’s going to be around for a long time.  And that means that the Rangers, arguably helped more than any other team by the “new” NHL salary restrictions, are also Cup contenders this year and in the future.    

   

As for Brodeur, he, Lamoriello and the Devils will regroup as they always do and will still be a factor.  But it says here that, from a winning-the-Stanley-Cup perspective, The King is Dead, Long Live The King!

 

 

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved. 

MIKE MUSSINA V. MANNY RAMIREZ, PART II

                                                                            Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas   

Short and sour:  Given the fiasco of pitching to Manny Ramirez last week with a base open (see Sports Plus, 4/13/08) and given the fact that Manny hit two more moon shots off Mussina last night (Red Sox 7, Yankees 5), there’s only one question to be asked:  Do Mussina and manager Joe Girardi still feel that “the comfort level” of Mussina facing Ramirez or Kevin Youkilis is “the same?”  Just asking. 
© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved. 

 

CHANGE THE WHAT-PITCHER-GETS-THE-WIN RULE NOW!!!

                                                                            Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas   

It happens often now in major league baseball with the inability of most pitchers to last past the sixth or seventh inning.  You have plenty of relievers in numerous games.  The days of the complete-game pitcher, long gone, have given way to the days of the five- or six-inning starter, with multiple relief “specialists” coming in all the time to attempt to hold the lead and win the game.

    

Which leads us to last night’s New York Yankees – Tampa Bay Rays game and winning pitcher Brian Bruney.  Bruney came into the game in the bottom of the seventh   with the Yankees leading 7-4 and one man on base with one out.  He promptly gave up two moon-shot home runs to B. J. Upton (to deep center) and rookie sensation Evan Longoria (to deep left).  Bruney, now in a tie ballgame (caused by him), then got two outs against the number six and seven hitters in the Tampa Bay lineup to finish the inning.

    

Fortunately for Bruney and the Yankees, Robinson Cano hit a home run in the top of the eighth to gain the lead back for the Yankees.  In the bottom of the eighth, with no Joba Chamberlain available (due to the health of his father), Bruney went out to pitch to the number eight and nine hitters in the lineup.  After Bruney got number eight hitter Nathan Haynes, number nine hitter Jason Bartlett hit a deep drive down the left field line that was hauled in by Johnny Damon, very close to a third home run.

    

Joe Girardi had seen enough and brought in Mariano Rivera for the four-out save.  So Bruney pitched horribly in the seventh inning (two long home runs that scored three runs to tie up the game) and not-so-well in the eighth (got two outs but almost gave up a home run to the weak-hitting number nine hitter on the Tampa Bay Rays).

    

Despite about as bad a performance as you can have, Brian Bruney gets the win.  HOW CAN THIS BE?  Well, it’s right there in the comment to Rule 10.17(a) of the Major League Rule Book:  Whenever the score is tied, the game becomes a new contest insofar as the winning pitcher is concerned.”  Since Bruney allowed the score to be tied, he becomes the pitcher of record.  But it would be better if the comment to Rule 10.17(b) applied: it states that the relief pitcher who was “most effective” (Rivera far more effective than Bruney or Traber, for that matter) should get the win.

    

But Rule 10.17(b) only applies if the starter hasn’t pitched enough innings to get the win.  Why?  That’s preposterous!  If starter Ian Kennedy had pitched four innings rather than six, Mariano Rivera would have received credit for the win.  Even though Kennedy pitched six, Bruney was still terrible.

    

Thus, on last night’s events, Mariano Rivera should have received the win.

    

But last night’s events are a perfect example of why there should be two rule changes.  The most obvious (and there are literally hundreds of examples of this over the years) is this:  NO RELIEF PITCHER WHO BLOWS A SAVE SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO GET THE WIN NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS BEFORE, DURING OR AFTER HE PITCHES POORLY.  That would be a rule that would make perfect sense and, remember, when the win rules were devised, there weren’t relief specialists, there weren’t closers per se like today and, for the first 80 or so years of baseball, there wasn’t anything known as a “save,” one of the (or maybe the) most misleading stats in baseball.

    

To take it one step beyond (and while the no-win-for-a-blown-save rule could and should be implemented tomorrow — hey, the NHL just instituted the Sean Avery penalty rule with no notice or anything in the middle of the playoffs – but that’s for another time), this leads to a more interesting and rule-changing notion that would never be implemented:  WHEN THE RELIEF PITCHERS (LIKE BRUNEY LAST NIGHT) ARE HORRIBLE, WHY NOT GIVE THE WIN TO THE STARTER WHO PITCHED WELL? (Last night, starter Ian Kennedy for the Yankees gave up three earned runs in six plus innings – for you old-timers, today that’s considered a “quality” start.  Seriously.)

    

Here’s an even better example:  Suppose a starter pitches lights-out for seven innings and leaves with a 2-0 lead.  Then a reliever (like Bruney) gives up two home runs in the eighth for a tie game.  Then the team that was leading squeaks out a run and the same reliever gets the side out in hair-raising fashion (or, worse, another reliever gets the losers out one-two-three) in the ninth.  Why not give the win to the starter?  The answer, of course, will be that’s not how it’s been done for 130 years.  But that’s not a good reason.

    

To recap, it’s a joke that Brian Bruney, who pitched about as bad as you can pitch (after giving up two monster homers, the four outs that Bruney did get were against guys with a combined average of about .225 and were numbers six through nine in the lineup), gets a win which should have been given to Mariano Rivera.  But it would be intelligent to implement the Blown-Save-Can’t-Get-A-Win Rule now and it would be ahead of the curve to think about, in this age of relievers, reverting the win to the starting pitcher who, through no fault of his own, didn’t win a game he should have won.

 

 

 

 

 

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.