New York Knicks: Kevin Knox enters make-or-break season

New York Knicks, Kevin Knox

Kevin Knox must have heaved a sigh of relief after Gordon Hayward decided to go to the Charlotte Hornets rather than to the New York Knicks.

Knox dodged a bullet there.

With no Hayward, Knox has a clearer path to earning a significant role under new head coach Tom Thibodeau with only veterans Reggie Bullock, Alec Burks, and 2019 second-round pick Ignas Brazdeikis crowding him for minutes in the small forward position.

But Knox has to earn and work for it, according to Tom Thibodeau, whose win-now mentality doesn’t bode well for a young and inconsistent player like the version of Knox we have seen in his first two seasons in the league.

Knox hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations after he was picked ahead of the likes of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Michael Porter, Jr. — two players who have exceeded their draft positions — in the 2018 NBA Draft.

After he was showcased in his rookie year, averaging 12.8 points in 28.8 minutes per game, Knox’s minutes and consequently his performance dropped to 6.9 points in just 17.9 minutes as David Fizdale coached for his job last season.

Knox’s confidence hit rock-bottom.

Knocking on Thib’s door

Despite Knox’s lackluster sophomore year, the Knicks’ new front office hasn’t given up on the former lottery pick and wanted to give him his fair shake.

They brought Kenny Payne, Knox’s biggest supporter in his corner during his lone season at Kentucky.

“Kevin Knox, let’s see how good he can be and that’s why you want a Kenny Payne with you,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said recently.

Before Payne came to the Knicks as one of their new assistant coaches, Knox has also worked out with renowned shooting coach Chris Matthews, known as Lethal Shooter on social media.

Add Camden High School coach Rick Brunson to the list of player development coaches who have worked out Knox.

Brunson, Thibodeau’s assistant during his brief stop at Minnesota and Leon Rose’s first client as an NBA agent, has worked out Knox in South Jersey along with Knicks’ rookies Obi Toppin and Myles Powell ahead of this year’s draft.

All signs point to Knox making a leap next season. Whether that will be big enough to keep him in New York or be sent somewhere else is up to him.

The Knicks still view him as a valuable piece of their young core.

For instance, take their reluctance to send Knox to Oklahoma City Thunder in a package that could have netted them All-Star point guard Chris Paul as another sign.

But this doesn’t mean Knox is completely off the hook.

Next season, his team option will be crucial to the Knicks’ plan of opening up a $70 million cap space, which is good for two max slots. 

If Knox finally breaks out, then the Knicks won’t have a hard time picking up his team option.

But if not, it’s time to pack up.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Yankees News/Rumors: The Yankees need pitcher Lance Lynn to stabilize the rotation

New York Yankees, Lance Lynn

The New York Yankees need Lance Lynn, the fact is they never should have let him go to the Texas Rangers, to begin with. Yes, in 2018 he had a mediocre season with the Yankees after being traded from the Minnesota Twins. He went 3-2 with a 4.14 ERA in eleven starts. But the Yankees were surprisingly quick to trade him away to the Rangers after signing James Paxton and J.A. Happ, and we all know how that turned out, both are gone now.

So what did Lance Lynn do, he became one of the most reliable starting pitchers in baseball coming in fifth in the Cy Young voting in 2019. This past season he went 6-3 with an ERA of 3.32. That is Gerrit Cole-like. He also pitched more innings than any pitcher in baseball; 84 innings. There is a number of reasons the New York Yankees should trade for Lynn.  Lynn also has postseason experience.

One reason is that he can be a true number two or three starter, he is a workhorse that can take the load off the by eating up a lot of innings. He is a clubhouse leader that can mentor the younger up and coming Yankees, like Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, and Jordan Montgomery. His veteran presence alone will mentor others.

Back in the dynasty years, the New York Yankees had five strong pitchers holding down the rotation. Compare that with the 2020 rotation and you saw a supermarket with empty shelves. Other than Gerrit Cole they had a sub-par bunch of pitchers augmented by young guys with little experience.

If the Yankees allow Domingo German to return to the team and resign Masahiro Tanaka, they will have the start of a quality pitching rotation. Adding Lance Lynn and with the return of Luis Severino mid-season, they will be pretty well set. Adding Lynn will also allow them to move Tanaka down in the rotation. If MLB has a 162 game season upcoming, it will give the Yankees time to set up the rotation during the season based on performance. Like I said earlier Lynn is a solid number two or three starter.

The move to acquire Lynn will also be an economic bargain. He will make only $8 million this season. The downside is that he will become a free agent after the 2021 season. If it turns out that Lynn has the success he has had with the Rangers for the Yankees, the Yankees will face a similar situation as they are this year trying to resign DJ LeMahieu.

Even if Lance Lynn was only to stay with the Yankees for one year, he would fill a needed hole while allowing another year for Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt to develop further and grow into the pitchers that the Yankees hope for.

 

New York Mets and Jacob Barnes avoid arbitration with one-year deal

A team can never have enough bullpen arms. Today’s game is especially demanding in that area, as starters’ average innings per turn is decreasing and relievers take a heavier load. The New York Mets know this, as the bullpen failed in the shortened 2020 season. Edwin Diaz returned to elite status, but Dellin Betances, Brad Brach, and others failed to reach expectations.

That’s why the New York Mets want to address the area during the offseason. In late October, they claimed right-handed pitcher Jacob Barnes off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels. Today, the team and the hurler avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $750,000 contract, according to Bob Nightengale.

The pact reportedly comes with some incentives that could net Barnes and additional $100,000. If you look at the surface numbers, the Mets aren’t getting a good reliever in Barnes, as he had a 5.50 ERA with the Angeles in 18 frames.

However, Barnes is a savvy addition to a club in need of several quality bullpen arms. He carries very good potential, as he had a 24/4 K/BB in those 18 innings and his fielding independent pitching (FIP) was a fantastic 2.25.

The Mets are making a worthwhile gamble

The Mets know they are getting a pitcher with iffy control (4.00 BB/9 rate in 198 career innings) but one who is capable of striking out a batter per frame, as evidenced by his 209 punchouts over that timeframe.

Barnes is primarily a two-pitch hurler. He throws a 90 mph cutter roughly 52 percent of the time and a 95 mph four-seam fastball 46 percent of the time. He rarely throws a changeup.

The Mets are hoping that pitching coach Jeremy Hefner helps him refine his repertoire and get the best possible results out of Barnes. If he has a good spring, he has a very good chance of starting the year in the active roster and contribute from the very beginning.

Barnes was eligible for salary arbitration. The deadline for the Mets, and all teams, to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible ballplayers is this Wednesday at 8 p.m.

UFC: Should Jon Jones take a heavyweight tune-up fight?

UFC, Jon Jones

Arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time is going through a career transformation. Former UFC light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones (26-1, 1 NC) is currently preparing his move to the UFC‘s heavyweight division.

The former light heavyweight champion vacated his title this year due to his desire to move up in weight. Jones has had some run-ins with the UFC this year where he asked for a release, but those talks have since faded.

Jonny Bones wanted to fight top heavyweight contender, Francis Ngannou after the pandemic had started. However, he wanted a bump in his pay which the UFC was not willing to do which caused a spat between the two sides.

Again, there seems to be no more bad blood between the two. Now, Jones is focused on getting stronger as he prepares to chase down heavyweight gold. Dana White said Jones would get a UFC heavyweight title shot whenever he makes his debut at heavyweight.

However, he could be waiting a while. Francis Ngannou is slated to take on the champion, Stipe Miocic, early next year. Currently that heavyweight title fight is being targeted for March, however, it’s not been officially announced.

That means that at the earliest, Jones likely wouldn’t get a shot at the heavyweight crown until the summer. At that point, Jones would have been out of the cage for at least 16 months. So, should Jon Jones take a tune-up fight at heavyweight?

What should the UFC and Jones do?

I’m going to say the same thing that Dana White said in that Jones should be fighting for the UFC‘s heavyweight title in his divisional debut. However, 16+ months is a long layoff for Jones who has already experienced lengthy layoffs in his career.

Let’s say Jones wants to get in a fight before the title fight. Who should the UFC pair him against? Many were saying that Jones could fight the winner of UFC Vegas 15’s main event which featured Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis.

That main event was scrapped after Blaydes tested positive for COVID. That fight is currently being re-booked for either December or January. Personally, I think it would make a lot of sense if Jones were to fight the winner.

Whoever wins that fight would be on a multiple fight winning streak. The winner of that fight would have likely been the number one contender after Ngannou if Jones wasn’t in the picture.

Reality of the situation is that the UFC will likely hold Jones until he can get a title shot. I think the winner of the Blaydes/Lewis fight will likely fight someone like Jairzinho Rozenstruik next as opposed to fighting Jon Jones.

Free-agent market for James McCann heating up, will the Yankees or Mets come out on top?

New York Yankees

Catcher is one of baseball’s most important position. They have to call a ballgame, prevent base stealers, field a very difficult position, and still hit four or five times per game. It’s incredibly demanding, and that’s why truly great backstops often earn their payday. Both the New York Yankees and Mets could be looking for a catcher this offseason.

The Mets have more of an obligation to add one, since they declined to pick up Wilson Ramos’ option for 2021. Tomas Nido is atop the catcher depth chart for the Mets, and that’s why they are fully expected to go after the big fish in the position, J.T. Realmuto. However, James McCann is widely regarded as the second best backstop of the 2020-2021 free agent class, and rightfully so.

The Mets are also considering McCann as an addition in this market. If they get him instead of Realmuto, they would, theoretically, increase their chances to add one between center fielder George Springer and star pitcher Trevor Bauer.
The Yankees, though, are also in the mix. Unlike the Mets, they have a couple of starting-caliber catchers in Gary Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka. The former is known for his bat and offensive potential despite a mediocre 2020 season, and the latter falls short of that talent with the bat but makes it up with the glove and defensive work behind the plate.

Will the Yankees address the catcher position?

Nevertheless, the Yankees could address the catching position by adding McCann. After all, they said they would be willing to listen to offers on Sanchez, but his trade value has suffered a severe hit.

McCann’s market is heating up. He’s, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, drawing interest from the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Angels.

McCann backed up Yasmani Grandal in 2020, but played much more than a traditional backup and is seen as a starter by other teams.

The 30-year-old spent the past two years with the White Sox and put together the best campaign of his career in 2020 after being named to the American League All-Star team the season prior.

McCann is a good target for the Yankees and Mets because he’s good with the bat (seven homers, .536 slugging and 144 OPS+ in 111 plate appearances in 2020) and behind the dish (nine defensive runs saved at catcher with Chicago while throwing out 32% of would-be base-stealers in the last two years.)

Should the New York Knicks look to trade Julius Randle?

New York Knicks, Julius Randle

It is no secret that the New York Knicks struggle to lure star free agents to Madison Square Garden, but last season, they managed to secure two quality talents, with one of them being traded away for draft capital midway through the 2019-20 campaign. Signing Julius Randle and Marcus Morris, the Knicks hoped they could become more of an offensive threat, but the team still struggled and eventually elected to part ways with Morris. Nonetheless, Randle remained in New York after signing a three-year, $62 million deal last summer after the Knicks couldn’t convince any Premier options to join their ranks.

The former lottery pick, who has done great things for the community, tried to carry the load while the remainder of the team struggled. He ended up finishing the season with an average of 19.5 points, 3.1 assists, and 9.7 rebounds per game.

Overall, Randle’s statistics look quite good, averaging 32.5 minutes per contest, the most in his entire career. However, he was known as a ball hog and slowed down the entire offense with his style of play. The Knicks are looking to spread the floor more and become a better transition team, something they have failed to do in recent years.

The New York Knicks are going in a new direction:

With the Knicks allocating two first-round picks toward Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley, I expect to see more bully-ball in the paint and stretching the floor with shooting guards. Randle acts as a primary power forward, the role that Toppin is expected to fill. I would be surprised if President Leon Rose isn’t shopping Randle for the right price. He simply doesn’t fit into their style anymore with Tom Thibodeau taking over as head coach.

Toppin’s ability to shoot three-pointers and explode in transition makes him an immediate starter if being picked eighth overall wasn’t already an indicator of that fact. Coexisting with Randle will be difficult, considering both require the ball in their hands to turn possessions into points. The problem with Toppin is his defensive ability, which makes it hard for him to slide to the 3 because of his deficiencies in the category. Since both are questionable defenders, playing both of them at the same time could be malpractice.

“I think best case, they don’t play together that often and you share the 48 power-forward minutes,’’ former NBA scout Bryan Oringher told The Post. “You can get away with each of them as a small-ball 5 for a few minutes a game, but I really don’t think either can play the 3. As centers, they are obviously undersized, and your rim protection will be pretty porous.’’

Some believe that they will have to share power forward minutes, which doesn’t exactly bode well for Toppin’s development and Randle’s value based on cost. Nonetheless, the Knicks have been acquiring draft capital like water these days, and I imagine Julius could be another piece to the puzzle for their future draft hopes.

New York Mets: Sandy Alderson will prioritize free agents over trades

New York Mets

The New York Mets are not too far off from being a contending team. They have an amazing offensive core in place, so much that losing Robinson Cano for the whole 2021 season can be fixed by just sliding Jeff McNeil or Andres Gimenez as the full-time second baseman. Their offensive depth is very good, especially in the infield.

However, ever since the Mets welcomed new owner Steve Cohen and president Sandy Alderson, the new regime is clear that some improvements are needed if they want to make a deep playoff run next year and leave behind the awful 2020 experience.

The New York Mets need an ace to pair with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, once he regains full health. A reliever or two should also be a priority, as is adding a starting catcher, another depth starter, and maybe an outfielder capable of playing center.

Cohen and Alderson have made it clear that while they won’t spend for the sake of it, they are more than willing to flex the Mets’ financial muscle if it means the roster will be improved.

What will the Mets do?

Alderson offered a bit more clarity about the Mets’ winter plans in an interview with Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM.

“We expect to be somewhat active in the free agent market as opposed to the trade market. We don’t want to give up our young guys,” Alderson said, noting that the Mets plan to “recommit to our farm system and try to stay away from…our really prospects in significant trades.”

While those remarks don’t entirely dismiss the possibility of adding someone via trade, they do imply that the Mets aren’t likely to bring Francisco Lindor from the Cleveland Indians.
In the last couple of years, under Brodie Van Wagenen, they traded prospects Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn, Simeon Woods-Richardson, and Anthony Kay, among others.

“There are only two currencies in baseball: players and money,” Alderson said. “Right now, especially in the upper levels of our system, we don’t have the players. We have some money at this point. So, we’re going to sort of balance those two things.”

New York Yankees News/Rumors: Will Aaron Judge have a new batting stance in 2021? (video)

New York Yankees, Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge got off to a torrid start at the beginning of the New York Yankees 2020 shortened season. He hit nine home runs in the first fourteen games of the season. He then had a calf strain while playing at Tropicana Field. He was out for over two weeks. When he returned, he never hit another home run for the remainder of the regular season. He went from hitting more home runs than any other baseball player to not hitting any. What was different? Was it lingering pain from the injury, or was it a chance in his batting stance?

Aaron Judge has tinkered with his batting stance several times in his short career. Most of it involved a toe tap. He has also changed from a closed stance to a much more wide stance, and back and forth according to what pitcher he is facing. He also adjusts how he holds his bat base on whether he is facing a left or right-handed pitcher.  He is notorious for these changes. It could be these changes cause him to go from hot to stone cold. He had an obvious change to his stance late and 2019, and he improved dramatically.

Now in this offseason, Judge has continued to work out and work on his hitting. He posted a video of him hitting with an apparent new rather extreme toe-tap to his Twitter account. I am certainly not an expert on batting mechanics, but at first glance at what he is working on doesn’t seem to be all that good. I don’t see how falling off the base when swinging is beneficial.

Of course, he did say that he is working on it. Hopefully, whatever he refines it into will lead to greater success than he exhibited late in the regular season last year. With a bit of a toe tap in the postseason, the slugger hit three home runs in seven games played. But, that is all he did; he struck out ten times and batted a miserable .133. In the 2021 season, the New York Yankees will need Judge to stay healthy, hit for power, and when he doesn’t find a way to get on base and drive in runs.

What’s next for Devin Clark after UFC Vegas 15?

This past weekend at UFC Vegas 15, Devin Clark (12-5) got the biggest opportunity of his career. After COVID scratched the original main event, he got the opportunity to headline a card against a former UFC title challenger in Anthony Smith.

Clark came into UFC Vegas 15 on a two-fight winning streak. He was the first man to derail the hype train of Alonzo Menifield back in June, but this was going to be a big step up in competition for Brown Bear.

Clark has very good wrestling and many people thought he could give Anthony Smith problems. Smith had some issues in his last couple of fights giving up takedowns and Clark had a style that could give him problems.

As soon as the fight started, Clark showed that he was game. Immediately opening the UFC Vegas 15 headliner with a big right hand which he attempted to chain into a takedown. However, Lionheart Smith did a fantastic job of reversing the position to take Clark down.

I was impressed with how Clark was able to defend himself on the ground. Brown Bear didn’t panic and he looked to reverse. Eventually, he exploded to end up in top position. However, he got a little lazy with his hands and Anthony Smith locked him in a triangle choke.

After initially defending the choke, Clark was forced to tap. The UFC Vegas 15 loss snapped his winning streak and it didn’t last very long. A tough loss for the Jackson-Wink product.

What’s next after UFC Vegas 15?

After the loss this past weekend, it’s back to the drawing board for Brown Bear. Clark did a few things really well in the fight, but a tactical error saw his first UFC main event end really quickly.

Fortunately, there’s no shame in losing to a top ten opponent who’s a former title challenger. It was a big step up in competition and maybe one that Clark wasn’t quite ready for. However, there are plenty of opponents in the UFC for him after this.

One matchup I like is a potential matchup with Ion Cutelaba (15-6, 1 NC). Cutelaba was ranked in the top 15 before he lost his second consecutive fight to Magomed Ankalaev back in October at UFC 254.

The Hulk would be a good next matchup for Clark. Both men are outside of the top 15 currently in the light heavyweight division. However, a win for either man would get them back on track to challenge someone in the UFC‘s top 15 at light heavyweight.

Can the New York Giants win with Colt McCoy?

New York Giants, Colt McCoy

The New York Giants are gearing up to face off against the Seattle Seahawks in week 13. Defensively, they allow the 27th most points at 28.7 per game, but the Giants just lost quarterback Daniel Jones to a right hamstring injury, which could keep him out for as long as 3-4 weeks.

Despite the injury, the Giants walked away with a victory against the Cincinnati Bengals in week 12, just barely edging it out and claiming first place in the NFC East heading into a four-game stretch against winning opponents. The next four games for Big Blue will be tumultuous, especially if Jones is unable to play, but that leads me to my question.

Can the New York Giants win with Colt McCoy?

All teams have to be prepared with a back-up in place, and the Giants will roll with McCoy if Jones is forced to miss ample time. The last time he threw 100 or more completions was back in 2011 with the Cleveland Browns. McCoy tossed 2,733 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. His latest real action was in 2018 when he played in five games, completing 34 passes for 372 yards, three scores, and three interceptions. He logged a 63 overall completion percentage, which isn’t too bad compared to others in the NFL.

McCoy can be graded as back-up level, finishing the win over Cincinnati with six completions, 31 yards, and a 65 overall passer rating. Against the struggling Seahawks defense, who is dominant against the run but ranks last in the league in passing yards allowed, they will force the Giants to utilize McCoy more frequently than one would hope.

The Giants have now rushed for 140+ yards in three straight contests, with the fourth-year player Wayne Gallman performing extremely well. With the Seattle defense capable of shutting down opposing running games,  McCoy will have to prepare to throw at least 30 times next week.

Losing Jones suddenly becomes a significant problem, and it really shows how much value he brings on offense. Before going down, Jones threw for 2,335 yards, eight touchdowns, and nine interceptions. His throwing statistics haven’t been elite by any means, but he’s also capable of running the ball extremely well, picking up 403 yards and one rushing touchdown this season. He’s also cut his turnovers down significantly, going 2.5 games without turning the ball over.

My overall prediction is that the Giants will struggle against Seattle based on their efficiency against the run and McCoy’s passing ability being unproven at this point. The defense will have to step up significantly to keep them in games, but they’ve done so all season, and I expect them to rise to the occasion.