NBA Legend Lance Stephenson Taking his Talents to China

by Scott Mandel

Old buddy, Lance Stephenson, the Coney Island, Brooklyn kid who made it to the NBA and became better known for his on-court antics than his sometimes superb basketball talents, is about to sign a contract to play in China next season.

According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Stephenson agreed to a one-year, $4 million deal with the Liaoning Flying Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association.

“Born Ready,” as he was called when he was 14-years old, and dominating the blacktop playgrounds of New York City against much older players, found his market in the NBA had apparently dried up at age 29. He was unable to get an offer for this upcoming season after the Lakers, his last employer, did not extend the one-year deal he signed with them last year.

His career should have been more productive than it turned out. His talent level, on both sides of the ball, was considered by many to reside in the elite section of the NBA. But, some combination of career-long immaturity, entitlement, cockiness, and corniness mitigated his talent, in the eyes of many NBA executives.

He was a constant triple-double threat during the 2013-14 campaign and averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. However, he has been a journeyman since and played for the Charlotte HornetsLos Angeles ClippersMemphis GrizzliesNew Orleans PelicansMinnesota Timberwolves, Pacers again and Lakers over the last five seasons. He suited up for three different teams in 2016-17 alone.

Stephenson shot 37.1 percent from deep in 2018-19 on his way to averaging 7.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.

When he was a young player with the Indiana Pacers, just two years out of high school back in 2011-12, his cockiness and physical style of play during Pacer practice sessions rubbed some of the veteran players, like Dahntay Jones, the wrong way.

In the locker room after one such competitive practice, Jones started a fight with Stephenson, which was soon broken up. Upon hearing of the altercation, Pacers President Larry Bird came down to the locker room.

According to a highly reliable source who was in that room, Bird read the team the riot act. He told those players, which included Paul George, Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger, and David West,

“Lay off the kid. He’s possibly the most talented player in this room and you need to encourage him to mature and to get better. He makes us a better team.”

Less than a month after that 2012 season ended, Bird traded Dahntay Jones to the Dallas Mavericks and handed Jones’ job, playing the wing from the big guard or small forward position, to Lance Stephenson.

Stephenson would go on to become a key part of the Pacers teams of that era, leading the league in triple doubles in 2013-14. He was just 22 years old that season and his future as an NBA star seemed in place. He, along with George led the Pacers to memorable Eastern Conference finals against the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-led Miami Heat, in 2013 and 2014, each series concluding with a game seven.

Stephenson was on his way, or so it seemed.

With an expiring contract in 2014, Stephenson, flourishing in Indiana, was expecting a financial reward commensurate with his exciting play for the Pacers. Instead, they underwhelmed him, leading to his acceptance of a three-year, $29 million deal from the Charlotte Hornets.

It started a league-wide sojourn for Born Ready that took him to six more teams, all with different styles and coaches. Stephenson found out he didn’t easily fit into the roles each coach wanted from him.

H is now at a basketball crossroads, which will be leading to the same country fellow Lincoln High School stars, Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair, were forced to explore. Marbury, who had worn out his welcome in the NBA at age 30, became a national legend in China, on a par with Yao Ming. A statue was built in Marbury’s likeness in Beijing, where he led that team to two consecutive CBA championships.

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The infamous blow in the air moment during the Pacers-Heat 2014 Eastern Conference finals

Telfair used the Chinese Basketball Association as a launching point to get back into the NBA. He averaged 25 points per game overseas and the Oklahoma City Thunder signed him to a series of 10-day contracts though he wasn’t able to parlay that into a long-term commitment from the NBA.

Stephenson is hoping to play well in China, and upon the end of the CBA season in February, 2020, come back to the states to help an NBA team make the playoffs.

Liaoning Province in China is in the northeast sector of the country, bordering North Korea. The NBA already has one of its old stars, Dennis Rodman, who pals around with North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Un. It wouldn’t shock anyone if Lance Stephenson becomes a national hero in China or, begins basketball clinics in North Korea. Two Brooklyn kids, Stephenson and Marbury, from the same high school, using the power of sports to dominate the socio-athletic-political spectrum of two Asian powers.

One gets the feeling Born Ready, always happiest when he could just be a big kid with a ball in his hands, will somehow find his way back to the United States to play basketball again, whether it’s in the NBA or on a black top in a playground.

Mets’ Matz Pitches First Complete Game Shutout of his Career, Five-hits Pirates

by Scott Mandel

Go ahead, Mets fans. You can dream a little more after tonight’s gem thrown by current number four pitcher in the Mets rotation, Steven Matz, as he pitched the first complete game shutout of his career, beating the Pirates on a masterful five-hitter, 3-0.

Matz may soon become the number two starter, behind Jacob deGrom if the Mets follow through on the rumors flying around this team they will soon be trading Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler by Wednesday’s trade deadline.

But, keep dreaming. Your Mets have now won nine of their last 13 games and four in a row. Their record is 49-55, just six games below .500, aka, mediocrity. They have passed two teams in the wild card race, with just four teams ahead of them. They are six games behind that last wild card slot and, as you may recall, that is not a number that cannot be overcome.

The Mets are viewed, especially by some in the media, as sellers instead of buyers as the trade deadline approaches but, the achilles heel of this team, its pitching, has righted itself since the All-Star break. In the 13 games since then, the Mets own the best E.R.A. in baseball, at 2.62. The bullpen, since 82-year old Phil Regan became the new pitching coach, has become nearly lockdown, with the exception of Jeurys Familia, who remains an important work in progress. All this has led to a 9-4 record, since the mid-summer break.

Mets manager, Mickey Callaway, doesn’t think they’re out of the race to the post-season yet, nor should he.

“I think we can get on a run, here,” said Callaway. “We’re pitching and we’re hitting and we are playing good baseball. Let’s just keep playing and see where it ends up. I like this team when it’s playing on all cylinders, as we imagined it in spring training.”

Matz pitched the most efficient game of his career, staying away from the full counts that have plagued him since he reached the majors. He finished off the Pirates in just 99 pitches.

“He was executing all four of his pitches,” Callaway said. “I thought his cutter/slider was the best I’ve ever seen. He was just tremendous in every way.”

After the game, Matz looked more relieved than usual.

“This is what I try to do every game,” Matz said of his first complete-game shutout as a pro, “so it was good to finally do it.”

Matz was backed by home runs from Michael Conforto, his 19th, and J.D. Davis, starting in left field with Dom Smith placed on the injured list with a foot issue.

Conforto blasted a homer into the second deck in right field

Matz also introduced a new pitch in his arsenal – a slow curve ball. His velocity on the pitch ranged from 78 to 82, and kept Pirates hitters off-balance. Perhaps, another influence of Phil Regan, or even Jason Vargas, today’s pitcher, who has mastered the technique of slow curve balls.

If Matz does move up to the number two slot in the Mets rotation, it will mean two things. The Mets have given up on the season, having traded their present pitching assets for futures. Or, that Matz has finally put together all of his potential and is realizing his talent.

Does it all change the front office’s thoughts about trades? That remains to be seen but, with this team finally playing in-synch with its talent, keep dreaming, Mets fans.

Football Giants’ Quarterback Battle Between Daniel Jones and Eli Manning Underway

By Michael Eisen


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Daniel Jones was standing at a podium answering questions from reporters today when Kurt Warner approached a Giants acquaintance and said, “he’s so much like Eli.”

“It’s amazing,” Warner said after Jones’ news conference had concluded. “Even some of the phrases he uses remind you of Eli (Manning). You talk about what you see on film and some of their mannerisms as players, but it’s crazy. You hear them talk and it’s like ‘Oh my gosh!’ These guys are like the same guy, it’s just Eli 15 years younger. It is fascinating. But again, not a bad guy to model yourself after, from a lot of different standpoints.” 

Warner, a Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, is hardly the first observer to note that Jones, the quarterback chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft, is similar in comportment, demeanor and throwing motion to Manning, who is preparing for his 16th season as the team’s starter.

Jones is eventually expected to succeed Manning. That made Warner’s presence fraught with symbolism, because the Giants haven’t changed quarterbacks since 2004, when Manning, then a rookie, replaced Warner. The Giants were 5-4 but had lost two games in a row and three of their last four. Tom Coughlin, then in his first season as the Giants’ head coach, was looking to the future.

“I think Tom Coughlin’s approach was, ‘We’re not a great football team,’” said Warner, who visited the Giants’ training camp in his capacity as an NFL Network analyst. “That doesn’t mean something can’t happen, but is it better to kind of start the future and to start building and get our young quarterback ready for that run two years from now and three years from now. We got seven games under our belt that were rough games, but to be able to handle that and work through that no doubt sped up the curve for Eli so he was ready earlier, and obviously it played out well for their (two) championships.

“When Tom brought me in, he told me, ‘It’s not because Eli is better. It’s just because this is what we have to do.’ It wasn’t like every day I was going, ‘I’m better than Eli.’ That’s not the scenario here. I just have to accept it, and help where I can help, and compete where I can compete and hope I get another chance. I think that made it different. I give Tom so much credit, because he looked me in the eye and told me, ‘This is why. It’s not fair to you. You’ve got to deal with it.’”

Warner joined the Giants knowing he was holding the position until Manning was ready, and his stay here would almost certainly be short. The Manning/Jones situation is different, because the former is the greatest quarterback and arguably most popular player in franchise history. No one has played and won more games in a Giants uniform.

“All that stuff has to come into play,” Warner said. “…there’s a lot of dynamics, but I think there’s a lot more flexibility with this situation because of who Eli is and the ability to really kind of let this thing play out instead of sit there and look for the first opportunity to get Daniel – I don’t think the Giants are going to be doing that. I think it can help ease the situation a lot more than a lot of these situations where teams are just looking for that first opportunity to say, ‘Hey, let’s put him in.’”

Giants coach Pat Shurmur has not publicly specified how he will divide the quarterbacks’ training camp snaps.

Warner played six seasons for St. Louis before joining the Giants. He led the Rams to Super Bowl XXXIV, where he threw for 441 yards and two ‘;touchdowns and was named the game’s MVP in a victory against the Tennessee Titans. Two years later, Warner threw for 365 yards, but the Rams were upset by New England in Super Bowl XXXVI. After leaving the Giants, Warner began a five-year stint with the Arizona Cardinals that included a loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLIII in which he threw for 377 yards and three scores. Warner was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2017.

Jones has said several times that he is trying to learn all he can from Manning, which is likely one reason mentor and protégé often seem so similar. Warner said he and Manning had a different kind of relationship 15 years ago.

“The weird situation with me and Eli was, Eli had Peyton (another first overall draft choice who also won two Super Bowls), Eli had Archie (his father, who was an NFL quarterback for 13 seasons). So it was kind of a little bit different dynamic for me, because first of all, I didn’t want to jump in and be like ‘Hey Eli’ when he has these great minds and football players there to help him. And you remember Eli when he was a rookie. Very quiet. He didn’t say a whole lot. He was kind of cerebral and took it all in. More than anything, you just offer different things. You watch film together. But I didn’t push the envelope with him like I did with some of the other guys, just because I knew he had the resources. It was always like, ‘Hey, if you ever need anything from me, I’m more than happy to help you.’ But I’m also respectful of the idea that a phone call away from one of the greatest quarterbacks that ever played, or a dad that played in the league and that understands it as well. So a little different dynamic than I think a lot of guys when you have a veteran and a young guy.” 

Although he played just one abbreviated season with the Giants, Warner has always spoken fondly of his time here, and of Coughlin.

“I wanted to play as many games as I could, not to stay the starter for the Giants for the long term, but to parlay that into another opportunity for myself,” Warner said. “With Eli, you always want to be able to go out on your terms. You want to be able to dictate, and what you realize in this business is, you can have a bad half, you can have a bad game, you can have a couple of bad games. That doesn’t mean you can’t play anymore or you don’t turn it around and then all of a sudden you have a great season. That becomes the hard part. When you’re entrenched as the starter, you get the luxury to have a bad game, or bad season or whatever that is. When you’re a starter and there’s a guy right behind you, you don’t always get that luxury if you go through a (rough) period.”

Warner’s season in Giants blue gave him an understanding of how Manning and other veteran quarterbacks feel with a highly-touted youngster on their roster.

“It’s always hard,” Warner said. “No matter what, or no matter how confident you are, you understand the dynamics of the situation. When you’ve got an icon like Eli from this organization, that there’s a different factor there that goes into it. But when you’re the veteran guy, and you know there’s a guy behind you that’s eventually going to play, it was always one of those things where you had to fight not playing worried about making a mistake. Or getting tight and playing differently than you did before. Most guys are never going to tell you that. But it’s the way it is. You go, ‘How long is my leash? If I have a bad game, is that it? If I have a bad half, is that it?’ That becomes the hard dynamic. Go play. You’ve got to play your game and let it play out. If you don’t, you’re not going to hold the job for very long anyways.

”I don’t know how it plays out with an icon like Eli, as opposed to, for instance when Eli and I were together. I knew it was just a matter of time. So I’m trying to hold onto it for 16 games. That’s all I’m trying to do, because I know two years is going to be tough. But a lot of times, that’s the situation. You’re just going, ‘How many games can I get out of this?’ Almost to prove to somebody else that I can play, because chances of me getting this job and keeping it when they’ve got a guy behind me is slim to none.”

No one knows exactly how the Giants quarterback situation will develop in the coming months and years. But it will be very interesting to watch.

Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu was Baseball’s Best Free-Agent Signing in 2019

by Scott Mandel

DJ LeMahieu continues to be the very best free-agent signing in Major League Baseball, prior to this 2019 season.

With Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, the two players considered the jewels of the free-agent market before this season, procuring record-breaking, practically-lifetime contracts that are virtually untradeable to another team because of their length and expense, it’s LeMahieu, as low-profile as a player could get, who is quietly leading the New York Yankees.

LeMahieu leads the American League in hitting, leads the Major Leagues in Runners in Scoring Position efficiency, and plays Gold Glove defense at three positions for the New York Yankees. And, his team is dominating the American League in ways they haven’t done so since their last championship season, 10 long years ago.

The two-year, $24 million contract LeMahieu signed with the Yankees is among the best deals Yanks’ G.M., Brian Cashman, has ever negotiated. And, when you compare his current production to that of Machado and Harper, LeMahieu is an absolute bargain, by 2019 standards.

Machado, who signed a 10-year, $300 million contract (repeat that to yourself a few times. I bet the astonishment doesn’t disappear) is hitting .268 along with an on-base pct. of .337 and a slugging pct. of .511. He’s hit 25 homers for the Padres and driven in 68 runs. Nothing to sneeze at, even at his $30 million annual salary.

Harper, 26 years old, procured himself, with the help of baseball’s super agent, Scott Boras, a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies, who are now stuck with him for the length of the contract, which has 12 !/2 years remaining on it. He’s hitting .258, with 17 homers and 70 r.b.i’s. Again, very good production, even if Harper has turned himself into a .250 hitter with an uppercut.

LeMahieu is clearly in the conversation for the Most Valuable Player award in the American League, where he never played previously. A career-long National Leaguer, for this player to come to a new franchise in a new league, facing pitchers he mostly had never seen before, his .338 batting average is astonishing. LeMahieu has 15 homers, 70 r.b.i’s, an on-base pct. of .383 and a slugging pct. of .528.

He’s outhitting those other guys by 70 and 80 points, respectively. He’s making 40% of Harper and Machado’s salaries. All he does is show up every day and quietly impacts the game on both sides of the ball. Suffice to say, the Yankees wouldn’t be leading the American League’s East Division by nine games if he wasn’t on the team.

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LeMahieu has been the Yanks’ best clutch hitter this season

LeMahieu had another outstanding game, two nights ago, with three hits and a walk. He also showed his defensive versatility with fine plays at both third base and first base, after taking over for Luke Voit, who was hit in the face with a pitch in the fourth inning.

LeMahieu said he’s getting “more and more comfortable” at playing multiple positions.

“He made some special plays at first and a real good play at third,’’ manager Aaron Boone said after the Yankees beat the Rockies 11-5 on Saturday. “Wherever he goes, he plays it like a Gold Glover.”

Mets Star, Dwight Gooden Arrested Again for DUI

Report from the New York Post

Addled former Mets ace Dwight Gooden was arrested Monday night for driving under the influence after heading the wrong way down a one-way street in Newark, NJ — just weeks after another DUI bust involving cocaine, sources told The Post.

The legendary ex-pitcher known as “Doc” — who has been in and out of rehab for years for drug and alcohol addiction — was a mess when he was picked up near Ferry Street in the Ironbound section around 11:10 p.m., sources said.

“He’d pee’d himself,” a source said, adding that Gooden told cops at the scene that he was diabetic, although it’s unclear if he is.

Gooden was taken to University Hospital in Newark.

The incident was only the latest sad turn for the 1985 National League Cy Young Award winner, who led the Mets to their most recent World Series championship in 1986.

While battling his addictions, Gooden, 54, has had numerous brushes with the law along the way, including in 2010, when he crashed his car in Franklin Lakes, NJ, while under the influence — and driving his then-5-year-old son, Dylan, to school.

Gooden’s most recent previous bout with law enforcement occurred June 7, when he was nabbed by Holmdel, NJ, cops for allegedly driving erratically. Officers later found two small ziplock baggies in his car containing suspected cocaine.

The former pitching great’s trials with substance abuse thwarted his Hall of Fame dreams, which had been fueled by such stellar moments on the field as his no-hitter in 2000 while with the Yankees.

According to the website Celebrity Net Worth, Gooden has $200,000 to his name.

Jim Bouton, Star Pitcher of Yankees in Early 1960s, Dies at 80

by Scott Mandel

Saddened to learn of the passing of one of my favorites, Jim “Bulldog” Bouton, an excellent right-handed pitcher for the Yankees in the 60s. Bulldog, who came over the top on all of his pitches, always lost his cap on the follow-through after firing fastballs. He won 21 games in ’63 and 18 more the next season. 

Jim pitched a memorable game three in the 1963 World Series for the Yanks in ’63 in a duel against Don Drysdale of the Dodgers. Drysdale pitched a three-hit shutout in a 1-0 victory, Bouton giving up just four hits for the Yankees. The only run scored in the first inning on a walk, wild pitch and single by Tommy Davis that bounced off the pitching mound.

Bouton won both his starts in the 1964 World Series. He beat the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1 with a complete-game six-hitter on Oct. 10 on a walk-off home run by Mickey Mantle, then won again on Oct. 14 at Busch Stadium, 8-3, backed by another Mantle homer and a Joe Pepitone grand slam.

Jim was a big-game pitcher but he will always be more famous for writing the best baseball book ever, Ball Four, which changed the sport and how it was covered, off the field, when he secretly chronicled his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots. The notion of what goes on in the clubhouse shall remain in the clubhouse was blown to bits by Bouton’s hilarious recollections of his Yankee years. Mickey Mantle, in particular, didn’t forgive Bulldog for many years for sharing Mickey’s late night escapades with the world. The Yankees never invited him back for Old-Timer’s Days. They should have. 

Jim Bouton

Rest in peace, Bulldog. Jim was 80 years old. Thanks for making a kid’s earliest years as a baseball fan exciting.

Presence and Karma of Miracle Mets of 1969, Honored at Citi Field Couldn’t Save Current Mets Today

by Scott Mandel

Before today’s game, during a ceremony at Citi Field honoring the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Miracle Mets world championship, one of the surviving members of that team and the only living original Met from that first season in 1962, Ed Kranepool, got up to the podium to say a few words.

Among his thoughts, Kranepool turned to the Mets dugout to address the current team.

“You’re only half way through the season. Whatever your struggles have been to this point, you can still pull off a miracle and win this thing.”

Once again, the Mets, particularly its bullpen, didn’t take Kranepool’s words to heart, as they blew another late-game lead to the first place Atlanta Braves, 5-4, dropping them 13 full games behind the Braves in the East Division.

Did anyone say, “Let’s back up the truck and become sellers?”

After the Mets rallied from a three-run deficit — and took the lead thanks to a hit by Robinson Cano — their disastrous bullpen cost them again as it has been costing them this entire season.

Seth Lugo was the main culprit. The right-hander gave up back-to-back homers with one-out in the eighth to extend their season-high losing streak to seven games, as calls for the firing of manager Mickey Callaway could be heard from the crowd of 40,809 at Citi Field — the largest since Opening Day.

The Mets had a chance to tie the game again in the bottom of the ninth but fell short.

Pete Alonso and J.D. Davis reached to start the inning before Michael Conforto was called out on strikes. Todd Frazier followed with a slow grounder to third, as both runners moved up for Dom Smith, who struck out to end it.

But they had to rely on their much-maligned pen, which was forced into action after the game was delayed 70 minutes following the second inning because of heavy rain, and Steven Matz’s night was over.

Ed Kranepool speaking at Citi Field, where he and other members of the 1969 Mets were honored before Saturday’s game.
Kranepool speaking while Jerry Grote, Jerry Koosman, Cleon Jones, Ron Swoboda, Duffy Dyler, Jim McAndrew, and Bud Harrelson look on

It worked out at first, as Chris Mazza — in his MLB debut — pitched four solid innings in relief and Lugo tossed a scoreless seventh before Nick Markakis and Austin Riley took him deep to swing the game.

“He was mowing them down and then, three pitches later, we’re down in the game and he’s given up two homers,’’ Callaway said of Lugo. “He looked like his normal self tonight. It’s kind of unexplainable.’’

Unexplainable has become the watch word of this Mets season, which, despite its bright spots in players like Pete Alonso, who hit his 28th home run today, Dom Smith, who also hit a 435 foot bomb to left center field and is batting .330, and Jeff McNeil, who is in the race for the National League batting title, it has been unexplainable how the supposed strength of this team, it’s pitching staff, has simply collapsed to the point where Mets G.M.. Brodie Van Wagenen fired the respected pitching coach, Dave Eiland, replacing him with the 82-year old Phil Regan, who pitched with Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers 54 years ago.

Unexplainable.

When Van Wagenen fires Callaway, as seems inevitable at season’s end if not sooner, that too, will be unexplainable.

The 2019 NBA Draft – Winners and Losers

by Scott Mandel

The NBA draft is over, and now, the work begins for teams to justify who they chose and how these new players will fit in with new teammates.

As happens every year, it’s easy to choose the winners and losers, based on what “experts” predict, on paper. Of course, experts are often wrong. Do you know who else is often wrong? The teams, themselves, who think every one of those top five picks will become superstars, leading them out of the morass of an NBA losing culture (how else did they get one of the first five picks?) into championship contention.

Before we break down the winners and losers, though, let’s take a look at when current NBA stars were drafted, in the past:

  • Steve Nash – 15th pick in first round
  • Draymond Green – 35th pick, second round
  • Nate “Tiny” Archibald – 19th pick in 1970
  • Tony Parker – 28th pick
  • Manu Ginobili – 57th pick
  • Jimmy Butler – 30th pick
  • Kawhi Leonard – 15th pick

And, let’s not forget some of the top 5 picks in recent NBA drafts who turned into busts:

  • LaRue Martin – 1st pick in 1972 draft, chosen before Julius Erving and Bob McAdoo, along with guard Paul Westphal. Bob McAdoo, and Paul Westphal
  • DaJuan Wagner – 6th pick in 2002, chosen before Amar’e Stoudemire, Caron Butler and Tayshaun Prince
  • Kent Benson – 1st pick in 1977 draft, chosen ahead of Bernard King, Walter Davis, Jack Sikma
  • Michael Olowokandi – 1st pick in 1998 draft, chosed ahead of Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce

The point is, all of the scouting and preparation that goes into choosing the players who will turn bad teams into good ones, often falls flat on its collective faces, getting scouts and general managers fired.

That said, let’s break down the 2019 NBA draft, with the codicil that we are probably going to be proven wrong in many cases:

Winner: The Pelicans’ War Chest and Their Future

On Thursday night, Zion Williamson waltzed into the Barclays Center in a suit as white as his smile and shook Adam Silver’s hand before giving an emotional interview. Obviously, this was a great moment for the Pelicans, but the NBA world had known it was coming since the lottery in May.

Back in New Orleans, David Griffin was still dealing. The Pelicans flipped the fourth overall pick, Solomon Hill’s expiring contract, and the 57th pick to the Hawks for the eighth, 17th, and 35th picks in the draft. Those first two picks turned into rim-running Longhorn Jaxson Hayes and Hokie Nickeil Alexander-Walker. As capologist Albert Nahmad pointed out on Twitter, this expansion of the Davis trade now leaves New Orleans with $30 million in cap space. Here it is, sans the Cavs pick, all laid out:

Anthony Davis has turned into:

– Lonzo Ball
– Brandon Ingram
– Josh Hart
– No. 8 pick in 19
– No. 17 pick in 19
– No. 35 pick in 19
– L.A.’ 21 pick if top 8
– L.A.’ 22 pick if not
– L.A. swap in 23
– L.A.’ 1st in either 24 or 25

And got rid of Solomon Hill’s contract.

Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers needed a 3-and-D rotation player and they just snagged the best defensive wing in the draft with the No. 20 pick in Matisse Thybulle. It’s amazing how undervalued defense is on draft night. Thybulle broke the defensive scale last season at Washington averaging 3.5 steals and 2.3 blocks per game as the free safety in Washington’s zone defense. If there’s any center in the NBA who can own the rim enough to let others roam, it’s Joel Embiid.

He can be their Robert Covington. Thybulle has shot 36 percent on over 500 3-pointers in his collegiate career. He shot just 31 percent from downtown last season, but he’s better than what he showed there. At 22 years old, he can step in right away and contribute to an already elite defensive core with Ben Simmons and Embiid. 

Sixers fans might get nauseous at the idea of trading up with Boston to pick a Washington product, but this it the back end of the draft, not the front. Also, Thybulle’s presence allowed Philly to dump Jonathon Simmons’ contract on the Washington Wizards and save an extra $1 million for their free agency pursuits.

Atlanta Hawks

League Pass All-Stars. Adding De’Andre Hunter (No. 4 pick from New Orleans via Los Angeles via crazy lottery luck) and Cam Reddish (No. 10 via Dallas for Luka Doncic), the Hawks figure to be an exciting young squad that will be fascinating to watch next season.

With Trae Young and John Collins’ defensive limitations, I love that they targeted Hunter with the No. 4 pick. He may not have the box score stats of a defensive stalwart, but Hunter played in a Virginia defense that suppresses blocks and steals. The Hawks weren’t going to let another Malcolm Brogdon slip from their fingers with two of the best offensive young players in the NBA in Young and Collins. Reddish is a question mark, but at No. 10, that’s a worthy spot for his upside.

Knicks fans

It’s been a rough few weeks for the Knicks faithful. They lost the draft lottery. Their presumed top free agency target, Kevin Durant, tore his Achilles tendon. The Pelicans traded Anthony Davis elsewhere. Just when you thought the Knicks’ offseason couldn’t get any worse … wait, good news on draft night?!

Yes, the Knicks selected RJ Barrett with the No. 3 overall pick, a Knicks pick that was met with loud cheers for the first time … ever? I have my concerns about a shooting guard who couldn’t shoot 3s or at the line efficiently, but it was nice to hear Knicks fans be happy. They got their homegrown talent who seems genuinely thrilled to be a Knick. I sincerely hope he finds his jumper, because the NBA is better when its biggest market has something to root for.

Losers

Phoenix Suns 

I really don’t know what the Phoenix Suns are doing. First, they traded T.J. Warren and his remaining $35 million over three years into the Pacers’ cap space. Warren, 25 years old, is a big wing scorer who shot 43 percent from downtown last season, providing a really good insurance policy for Indiana free agent Bojan Bogdanovic. And you give him away along with the 32nd pick for cash considerations?

This is a deal you make if you’re a title contender looking to add a premiere free agent. But the Suns are going nowhere and they punted on Warren and got next to nothing. This is a new front office led by veteran GM Jeff Bower, but I’m not a fan of their start. Maybe they have D’Angelo Russell in their sights with their resulting cap space, but even then, I don’t love his fit next to Devin Booker. Deandre Ayton will have to be Bill Russell to clean up the backcourt’s mistakes.

And then they traded down from No. 6 for Dario Saric and the No. 11 pick, but reached for the oldest player in the draft, Cameron Johnson. Look, the UNC product is an elite shooter on the wing, but I worry about his age and hip issues. Bone impingement and a torn labrum is what has devastated Isaiah Thomas’ career, so hopefully he’s put those health issues behind him. Phoenix’s brass must’ve heard that Johnson was promised shortly after No. 11 because most intel had him projected to be a late first-rounder, at best. 

For a team that finished with the second-worst record in the NBA, this wasn’t much of a reward for their futility.

Hats

I kinda like the goofy hats atop the giant manes of the draftees, but we need to update the hat logos to reflect the teams they’re actually going to play for. Do we really need to put a Lakers hat on DeAndre Hunter after that pick was traded not once, but twice? Let’s bring the draft into 2019.

Washington Wizards

The Wizards were an awful defensive team last season, ranking 27th in defensive efficiency and traded Otto Porter for two score-first-and-second players in Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis. With interim GM Tommy Shephard steering the decisions for the club, I expected the Wizards to target a defensive presence at the No. 9 pick, someone like Brandon Clarke who reminds me a lot of Shawn Marion with his elite finishing ability and versatility on the defensive end. Clarke is only 6-foot-8 with a short wingspan, but he had the instincts and athleticism to block over three shots a game for Gonzaga. (I love him in Memphis next to Jaren Jackson Jr.)

Instead, the Wizards went with Clarke’s teammate at Gonzaga in Rui Hachimura, who fits the mold of a younger Parker. I like Hachimura’s scoring abilities around the rim, but this team needs more impact players on the defensive end and I think they missed out on Clarke. Getting Simmons from Philly makes some sense on the wing, but then again, coach Brett Brown, looking for defensive players on the wing, didn’t trust him much at all in the playoffs. Admiral Schofield is a solid flier in the second round with the 42nd pick they netted from the Sixers, but that’s a steep price with cash considerations going to Philly. Again, where is the defense going to come from for this team? The good news is Bradley Beal is still a Wizard. No desperate moves from Washington. 

Boston Celtics

It really seems like the Celtics have given up on the 2019-20 season already. By trading Aron Baynes to Phoenix and not moving up in the draft with their bevy of picks, the Celtics have essentially reverted back to the team that rallied to the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals without Kyrie Irving.

But that team had Al Horford, who is an essential part to everything that they do. They’ll need Horford to compete next season, but right now, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Robert Williams will be their starting frontcourt next season. I’m not high on Romeo Langford (No. 14), but I love the Grant Williams pick at No. 24. (Jaylen Brown and Williams, the son of a NASA engineer, should stream weekly Academic Bowls.)

No one outside New England is feeling sorry for this team. But between Danny Ainge’s health scare and the surprising exodus out of Boston, this has been a sad chapter for the franchise. 

Look, they might make a run for Kemba Walker, who went to UConn just 85 miles down the road, but the comments out of the team on Thursday night suggest this will be a rebuild. Just a year ago, the Celtics held one of the brightest futures in the league. Now, they’re a cautionary tale.

Bol Bol

No one wants to be the guy that lingers in the green room on draft night, but I’m happy he landed in Denver. For the second year in a row, the Nuggets take a rehab flier on a top prospect. Last year it was Michael Porter Jr., who was the 14th pick dealing with back issues. He had a redshirt season in Denver, which might be the outcome for Bol in 2019-20 while he rehabs from a broken foot.

Bol is more than worth the flier. The son of the late NBA legend Manute, Bol is a 7-foot-2 shooter with a 7-foot-7 wingspan and has some real NBA-caliber skill. I am stunned he fell all the way out of the first round, even with the foot injury. He’s a top-10 talent. Good for the Nuggets to take a chance on Bol.

Yankees May Look to Lengthen Pitching Staff with Shorter Pitchers, Marcus Stroman and Minor League Phenom, Garcia

by Scott Mandel

The New York Yankees, in need of starting pitchers, will try to trade for 5’7″ righthander, Marcus Stroman, a local boy from Long Island who has been languishing in Toronto with the Blue Jays, before the July 31 trading deadline. They have another short (okay, height-challenged, for you politically correct types) pitching phenomenon in the minors, named Delvi Garcia, a 20-year old 5’8″, 160 pounder, who is averaging 16 strikeouts per nine innings and appears to be a “can’t miss” prospect with four above average pitches in his arsenal, including a 95-97 mph fastball.

Wouldn’t it be fun to see little guys out there on the mound, mixed in with Yankee pitchers like 6’7″ C.C. Sabathia, 6’5″ James Paxon, 6’5″ JA Happ, and 6’5″ Aroldis Chapman, mowing down major league hitters during the stretch run of a pennant race?

Whitey Ford, only the greatest pitcher in Yankee history, was about 5’8″, and he’s in the Hall of Fame with 236 wins to his credit.

Clearly it’s not the size of one’s height, it’s the size of one’s heart (just made that up). And, it’s also the spin rate on the curve and slider, mixed in with control and command of a 95mph heater. But more on that, later.

Delvi Garcia is mowing down Double A hitters and could be in the Bronx sooner than expected

The Yankees have been bitten by the injury bug throughout their roster this season with the pitching staff getting hit particularly hard. Injuries to Luis Severino, their ace, along with Domingo German and Jordan Montgomery (recovering from Tommy John surgery last June) have left them with an over-dependence on pitchers like the 39-year old Sabathia and 36-year old Happ while getting inconsistent performances from James Paxson and German (before his injury).

Garcia, at Double A Trenton, is dominating Eastern League batters as he dominated in Single A ball. He is expected to be moved up, once again, to Triple A, the highest level of minor league baseball, within a few weeks. If his dominance continues there, he could be in line to get called up in September, when major league rosters expand.

“For a lack of a better word, he’s been dominant,” Trenton Thunder manager Pat Osborn said. “He has a really good four-pitch mix and all four right now are probably above the Major League average. He’s a heck of a competitor and has the composure of a guy that’s been pitching for a number of years. He’s the full package in terms of what you want in a young starting pitcher.”

Montgomery has had a recent setback in his rehabilitation, trying to come back from rotator cuff surgery in his elbow last June. This time, he is experiencing pain in his throwing shoulder. An MRI this week showed inflammation in the joint, always a scary proposition for pitchers. He won’t be back anytime soon.

German is a question mark, particularly since he didn’t pitch that well prior to his injury. He tends to lose command of his pitches, probably due to faulty mechanics with his delivery. He was able to maintain fastball velocity in the 95 mph range, but wasn’t throwing it for strikes, consistently. He was hit hard over his last several outings.

Severino, who won 19 games last season, seems to be progressing well in his rehab. If everything continues on a good path, it looks like he’ll be headed down to the minors in about two weeks to stretch out his arm so he can give the Yankees solid seven-inning outings when he returns to the big club. That should require at least four starts down on the farm, with the last two outings to occur with the Triple A Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees. Depending on how his arm, as well as his other physical ailments respond will determine when the Yankees bring him up to the big club in the Bronx. But, it will certainly be after the All-Star break.

The lesson to be learned is as old as the game, itself. Teams can never have too much pitching.

Seaver, Mets All-Time Great, Suffering from Dementia

Fifty year anniversary of the Miracle Mets. A few teammates, Buddy Harrelson, Jerry Koosman, Art Shamsky, and Ron Swoboda visited the great Tom Seaver at his home in the Napa Valley, just prior to Seaver’s announcement he had been diagnosed with dementia. That’s Tom Terrific, 74, on the right.

Amazing how time flies. Truly astounding.

But, time doesn’t stand still for anyone, which of course, is one of the oldest cliches known to man. These old Mets, now in their mid to upper 70s, won a World Series championship in 1969 with a franchise forever known as the “lovable losers,” until Tom Seaver joined the team in 1967.

Seaver, who retired in 1989 with 311 victories, is a Hall of Famer, one of the icons in the history of the sport. On the mound, and in the clubhouse, he was like John Wayne, in those John Wayne movies. Tough, didn’t take any guff from anyone, meant business, and accomplished his objectives.

So, it was a shock to Art Shamsky when he coordinated a trip to Seaver’s Napa Valley home to visit the ailing pitcher and old teammate to find the former ace struggling to remember events and names from their championship series.

Jerry Koosman brought a copy of the New York Times from the Mets' championship. (Courtesy Erik Sherman)
Jerry Koosman holds up a copy of NY Times from 1969, after Mets won World Series
Tom Seaver discussing viticulture with Ron Swoboda. (Courtesy Erik Sherman)
Swoboda and Seaver on Seaver’s 116 acre vineyard