Knicks: Kemba Walker’s homecoming officially comes to an end

knicks, kemba walker

Kemba Walker became the first domino to fall after New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau hinted on lineup changes before the NBA All-Star break.

Walker’s New York homecoming excruciatingly came to an end Wednesday after the four-time All-Star decided to sit out the Knicks’ final 23 games. ESPN first reported the story.

“We fully support Kemba’s decision to shut it down for the remainder of the season and to use this time to prepare for next season. His long-term success on the court remains our priority,” Knicks team president Leon Rose said in a statement.

Walker will be on a $9.1 million expiring deal next season. This makes him a more palatable trade chip this summer as the Knicks hope to reshape their roster, which has been disappointing so far. Thibodeau was confronted with a rotation logjam after the Knicks failed to move Walker and their other veterans at the trade deadline. The emergence of rookie Quentin Grimes, the addition of Cam Reddish, and the impending return of Derrick Rose did not help Walker’s cause. Walker was the odd man out after he went in and out of the lineup due to lingering knee soreness.

The Knicks have spiraled to 12th in the Eastern Conference following a 3-13 record in their last 16 games. Thibodeau hinted that they could pivot to developing their younger players.

“We have a chance to reboot here,” Thibodeau said after the Knicks blew a 28-point lead to the Brooklyn Nets last week. “Everything is on the table now. Everything has to be merit-based. You earn what you get. You look at everything. How are we going to manage this? If a guy is playing good, he plays. If the team is functioning well, he should play. The team has to come first for everyone.”

Walker, a Bronx native, signed a two-year deal with the Knicks after securing a buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder. At that time, it was trumpeted as a low-risk, high-reward move. But save for one solid stretch in December, Walker was a shell of himself.

The 31-year old Walker was yanked out of the rotation for nine games in November before re-emerging after COVID-19 decimated the Knicks roster. He came back with a vengeance, scoring 29, 21, and a season-high 44 points before a Christmas Day triple-double. It was short-lived as he moved in and out of the lineup, signaling the beginning of an end.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

BKFC purchased by Triller

This past weekend, BKFC had their second annual Knuckle Mania event. This event was a big deal for the promotion and featured the debuts of a couple of big time former UFC fighters including former three-time featherweight title challenger Chad Mendes.

By all indications, the event was a success for BKFC and they saw their new fighters have big wins. Chad Mendes won emphatically by TKO and Mike Perry made a statement with his win. Perry’s win sets up a potential BKFC title fight with middleweight champion Thiago Alves.

Over the past couple of years, BKFC has been doing whatever they could to become more mainstream and disrupt things. Arguably the biggest move that they made was signing former UFC fighter and social media star Paige VanZant.

PVZ signed a massive deal with BKFC and the promotion hoped that she could lead them to the next level. However, the investment hasn’t paid off yet. VanZant has lost both of her Bare Knuckle bouts and her third fight is yet to be booked. No confirmation that it will be booked.

However, BKFC has continued to grind and they picked up guys like Chad Mendes and Mike Perry to help build their brand. They’ve made enough noise where founder David Feldman started fielding calls from people interested in purchasing the promotion.

BKFC Purchased

Today on the MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani, David Feldman announced that BKFC’s majority stake has been purchased. Feldman announced that the Triller group has purchased BKFC and now has the controlling position within the promotion.

BKFC’s president did say that operations will run pretty much as is after the Triller acquisition. He noted that the main thing that comes with this acquisition is the increase in funding which should make them more competitive with top-notch free agent athletes.

We’ve seen BKFC throw around some money to get notable fighters, but now they have even more money. When a top free agent hits the market, BKFC is going to have to be talked about as a potential destination especially with the increased funds.

The promotion is expected to have a big year this year. Feldman announced that they will be having a total of 42 events in 2022 and he’s hoping to have BKFC be legalized in 22 states by the end of the year. Currently, only 14 states allow Bare Knuckle boxing.

Nets GM Sean Marks credits Steve Nash for recruiting Goran Dragic

In 2008, then Phoenix Suns GM Steve Kerry targeted Goran Dragic in the draft as Steve Nash’s heir apparent. More than a decade later, Dragic’s career arc comes full circle.

After securing a buyout with the San Antonio Spurs — the team that initially drafted him in 2008 but traded his rights to the Suns — Dragic met with the Brooklyn Nets contingent led by GM Sean Marks and Nash. When Marks saw the bond between Dragic and Nash, he knew right there and then that they would land the Slovenian guard.

“I have to give full credit to Steve on this one,” said Marks referring to their Friday meeting with Dragic. “It was really intriguing to me to see the relationship that Goran and Steve have — the respect they have for one another. And really the respect Goran had for Steve many, many years ago. The fact that he was his vet when he was a rookie that’s a unique relationship there. Just to watch those two tell stories together, it was certainly refreshing for me to sit back and almost just envision the things to come.”

Nash took Dragic under his wings in Phoenix. He served as Nash’s backup for over 190 games. But it wasn’t until the Suns’ 2010 playoff run that Dragic broke through when he scored 23 fourth-quarter points in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals against; guess who? The Spurs. The Suns swept the Spurs, 4-0 but eventually fell short in the Western Conference Finals against the eventual champions Los Angeles Lakers.

With that unfinished business as the backdrop, the 35-year old Dragic hopes to win the elusive NBA title with Nash as his mentor anew.

“Steve has another ally on the court. We know what Goran can do. He’s tried and tested. He’s a fierce competitor. And in the meeting, it was very clear why he wants to be here, and that’s [competing for a] championship,” Marks said. 

The Nets currently sit eighth in the Eastern Conference with a 31-28 record dropping from the top after losing Kevin Durant to injury and James Harden eventually asking out. But the Nets have been reinvigorated after the Harden trade posting a 2-1 record before the All-Star break with the help of new acquisitions Seth Curry and Andre Drummond, who were part of the Harden-Ben Simmons blockbuster trade.

Dragic will come in as a veteran leader and extension of Nash on the court. He is ramping up his activity to return to the court after only playing five games with the Toronto Raptors earlier in the season before he was shut down. But Marks expressed confidence that Dragic’s longstanding relationship and familiarity with Nash would seamlessly aid him in integrating himself with the team.

“Goran already has a little cheat sheet. Like he’s already been there. Just having a high IQ player out on the court alongside the guys we already have will certainly speed up that learning process, that learning curve for all our new guys,” Marks said.

When Durant and Simmons return and Kyrie Irving is eventually allowed to play at home, the Nets’ Big 3 will have a loaded supporting cast led by Dragic, who can compete at a high level. Dragic and Patty Mills can form a deadly backcourt duo in their second unit.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Kyrie Irving’s return to Nets home games imminent as NYC Mayor Eric Adams ‘can’t wait’ to lift vaccine mandate

Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving

One day after Brooklyn Nets GM Sean Marks expressed optimism that Kyrie Irving could play in their home games for the stretch run, New York City Mayor Eric Adams boosted those hopes.

In his press briefing at Brooklyn Navy Yard on Wednesday, Adams said that he’s eager to lift the vaccine mandate and that they’re moving in the right direction.

“Yes, and I can’t wait to get it done,” said Adams referring to lifting the vaccine mandate. “I think that I take my hat off to New Yorkers through masks vaccines through social distancing. You know, we were hit with the uncertainty, the fear of COVID. I’m just really proud of how we responded as New Yorkers.”

But while Adams is eager to follow other major cities like the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and soon Chicago to lift its proof of vaccination requirements in indoor venues, he was quick to add that he will adhere to Science.

“Every morning, I meet with my health professionals because I always stated, I’m going to follow the science,” Adams said. “I’m not going to get ahead of the science because I’m ready to get ahead of all of this and get back to a level of normality, but they’ve given us clear structures. They gave us benchmarks. We’re going to follow those benchmarks.”

The next few weeks will be critical in shaping up Adams’ decision. As of Wednesday, COVID-19 cases in New York have dropped to 2,975, a -56 percent change in the last 14 days.

“I look forward to the next few weeks of going to a real transformation that I don’t have to wonder what you look like. I would know what you look like again, so we are moving in the right direction. We go to doing the safe way because all of these experts will tell you one thing we can’t close down again. We can’t close down again. And I’m not going to do something at my anticipation to get back that’s going to jeopardize closing down the city again,” Adams said.

The Nets will play in Brooklyn in 13 of their last 23 games starting Thursday against division rival Boston Celtics. But they only have three home games in the next three weeks after hosting the Celtics.

“I have to be optimistic like everybody here. I think we all know what’s at stake here,” Marks said Tuesday. “They’re starting to change rules that we’re starting to see a sense of normalcy again getting back to life. We have to go on. Vaccine rates are obviously high, so I’m optimistic.”

The Nets currently sit at eighth in the Eastern Conference with a 31-28 record but have won two of their last three games since trading James Harden for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and future picks. Simmons has yet to play, but there’s also optimism that he or Kevin Durant is close to returning.

“Depending on when they go, we’ve got to see how they respond to the days like [Tuesday], and we’ll go forward with this. It’s going to be tough, to be honest, to be playing in the next three or four days, but we’ll see how it all plays out. I’m certainly not bid against either one of those guys,” Marks said.

“All I could say is I left the gym before coming over here, and I could see those guys on the court doing their individual workouts and the pace with which Kevin, for one, was going at it. It’s always remarkable to me how he is just trying to master his craft. Absolutely incredible, inspirational.”

Durant has not played since Jan. 15 due to sprained MCL on his left knee. He also skipped attending the NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland after his grandmother passed away. Simmons has not played since the playoffs. ‘

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

With UFC 300 in sight, Jim Miller is showing no signs of slowing down

This past weekend, one of the more decorated veterans of the UFC made a record breaking walk. Jim “A-10” Miller (34-16, 1 NC) made the walk to the octagon for the 39th time which set the record for the UFC.

Miller was taking on a tough up-and-comer in Nikolas Motta (12-4). After earning a UFC contract back in late 2020, Motta was finally making his debut with the promotion after a few cancellations. He was more motivated than ever.

However, he had a tough test in facing off against the veteran Jim Miller. Throughout the first part of the fight, both men were having their moments, but I was incredibly impressed with the way the 38-year-old Miller looked.

Then, in the second round, he dropped Motta. Miller followed up with some brutal shots and scored the TKO win at UFC Vegas 48 which was his second consecutive win. Not only that, the win furthered a few more of his records.

As mentioned, Miller already has the record for the most wins in the UFC. However, he also has a couple of lightweight record including most wins (21) and the most finishes in lightweight history (14).

What’s next after UFC Vegas 48?

Halfway through 2021, things were looking down for Jim Miller. The veteran had lost two fights in a row and given his age, many were wondering how much he had left in the tank. Well, Miller has answered those doubts emphatically with his last two UFC wins.

Miller has faced two really solid lightweight prospects and he’s knocked both of them out. He honestly looked better than ever on Saturday night. Miller has stated that his goal is to fight at UFC 300 which is scheduled to take place in 2024.

With the way he looks right now, I have no doubts that he’s going to make it there. Now, after that win, who should the UFC pair him with next? Well, we know that he’s not going to get a ranked opponent next, but I think he needs to get someone who is coming off some good performances.

Perhaps we look at the winner of the Jared Gordon – Rafael Alves fight that takes place in April. Or, if you want to throw the hot prospect to the wolves, why not give Paddy Pimblett a shot if he’s able to win in March. Talk about a stiff test, but one that could pay off big time for the Brit.

Either way, the UFC has a lot of options and Jim Miller is going no where!

There is a “growing belief” Yankees’ target won’t return to Atlanta

freddie freeman, yankees

The futures of Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson appear to be tied to each other’s. They are the best available first baseman in the market once the lockout ends: one, Freeman, is a free agent, while Olson is a prime trade piece that the Oakland Athletics will likely flip during this offseason. The New York Yankees should be considering both.

First base is not as pressing of a need as shortstop for the Yankees: they have Luke Voit to play the cold corner, while shortstop is a huge question mark. But they would like a better defender who is also a better bet to stay healthy than Voit.

Some encouraging news are coming from Atlanta in the last few hours. According to ESPN insider Buster Olney, there is a “growing belief” that Freeman won’t be returning there. After leading them to the World Series title (for the first time since 1995) and winning the NL MVP award in 2020, the Braves don’t seem eager to pay the 32-year-old Freeman what he’s seeking.

Will the Yankees pay Freeman what he wants?

Freeman reportedly wants something in the neighborhood of six years and $180 million. A lot of money, sure, and a sizable commitment in years, but he has earned every penny: last year, he slashed .300/.393/.503 with 31 home runs, 120 runs, 83 RBI, a 135 wRC+, and 4.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

The Yankees should have Freeman as a potential target, even if they should prioritize shortstop and some more pitching help. Freeman would be perfect for their lineup as a proven left-handed bat with power and patience.

In case they swing and miss with Freeman, Olson presents a nice alternative. He has power (39 homers in 2021) and is a better defender than Freeman at this point, plus he would be cheaper and with a shorter commitment than the Braves’ legend. He would require the Yankees giving up some prospects, though.

Which first baseman would you prefer, all things considered, Freeman or Olson?

Yankees’ star prospect Anthony Volpe says exactly what we want to hear

anthony volpe, yankees

Preparing to kick off minor-league spring training, New York Yankees star prospect Anthony Volpe pondered his future with the organization, especially with rumors indicating he could be packaged in a blockbuster trade this off-season.

General manager Brian Cashman is unlikely to part ways with arguably the most valuable prospect in the Yankees farm system at this moment, but anything is possible after the lockout finally comes to an end. Volpe is preparing to turn 21 this upcoming season, standing at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds.

Coming off his first season with Low-A Tampa and Hudson valley, the Yankees are expecting to elevate him this year, accelerating his growth and development. In 2021, Volpe hit a combined. 294 with 27 Homers and 86 RBIs. He’s quickly approaching Major League baseball and considering it is his dream to do so, the Yankees would be foolish to send him on his way before testing his capabilities at the highest level.

“It’s been my dream to play for the actual Yankees and not just be a minor leaguer,’’ Volpe said Tuesday, via Dan Martin of the New York Post. “I can’t really control anything that happens from here on out, but I’m definitely gonna work as hard as I possibly can to try to make that a reality.”

Anthony’s teammates have raved about his qualities climbing through the farm system, but he’s still an expected two years away from getting his first crack at shortstop. That is why the front office is hesitant to pursue a big name like Carlos Correa on a massive deal.

A stopgap solution makes the most sense given their confidence in Volpe and Oswald Peraza, who could shift to another infield spot if both are playing simultaneously in the future.

One thing that continues to pop up regarding Volpe is his maturity as a player, showcasing advanced athletic abilities and mental processes.

“It’s elevated,’’ hitting coach Dillon Lawson said. “He has the ability to take a game plan and not get distracted from it. He’s ahead of his age.”

At just 20, Volpe has impressed enough to justify holding on for dear life until he’s ready to make the jump. This season will be incredibly important for his growth and preparation. If he can remain consistent with his contact and extraordinary power, Volpe could find himself sniffing a Major League spot in less than two years.

2 players the Giants should consider bringing back on cheap extensions

New York Giants, Lorenzo Carter

This off-season, the New York Giants face an interesting situation trying to piece together a competent team without much salary space to spend. Currently -$12 million over the salary cap, the Giants will have to make a few complex moves to open up space for their draft selections and a bit of mobility in free agency.

However, the Giants have a few starting pieces hitting the open market, including Lorenzo Carter, Will Hernandez, Jabrill Peppers, and Evan Engram. It is unlikely that Engram is retained given his inefficiency and lackluster blocking. Former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll utilized a mid-round pick on Dawson Knox as their primary TE, who featured as both a pass catcher and prominent blocker.

I expect the Giants to utilize one of their mid-round selections on a tight end this off-season, allowing their new position coach Andy Bischoff to mold his own player, similar to what he did with the Baltimore Ravens and Mark Andrews.

Retaining Peppers could be justified given his versatility and likely flourishing in Wink Martindale’s defensive scheme. Coming off an ACL tear may not entice the front office, but they could likely keep him on a cheap deal given the injury. I wouldn’t bet on it, though.

The two players the Giants could legitimately consider are Lorenzo Carter, starting outside linebacker, and Will Hernandez, who struggled considerably last season at right guard, playing alongside Nate Solder and one of the worst offenses in football.

Let’s start with Carter, who finished this season with 50 combined tackles, six tackles for a loss, eight quarterback hits, and 5.0 sacks.

Carter started the 2021 season slow, working his way back from an Achilles tear that took over a year to recover fully. However, he finished the last four games of the season with impressive numbers, totaling 16 tackles, five sacks, and 10 hurries.

Given how exceptional he looked, the Giants could consider bringing him back on a cheap contract, maybe something in the range of two years, $6 million. They wouldn’t have to spend much, and given his familiarity with the team, it could make sense for a reunion to take place.

On the other side of the ball, Hernandez stands out as a potential fit with Big Blue. At just 26 years old, Hernandez is coming off his worst season as a professional, giving up 7.0 sacks, seven QB hits, and 22 hurries in his fourth season. Interestingly, Hernandez saw a regression in almost every season as a professional, but that resulted from poor coaching and consistent turnover rather than his capabilities.

Hernandez was solid as a rookie and sophomore in the league, especially as a pass blocker. He then missed some time due to injury in 2020 and shifted to right guard entirely last season, struggling alongside Solder and Matt Peart.

Since the Giants don’t have much capital to spend, Hernandez could likely be retained on a two-year, $6 million deal as well. New general manager Joe Schoen will have his hands full finding quality players at a cost-efficient price point, and a few familiar faces could fit the bill. There are plenty of free-agent options on the market, so they could easily move on and cut their losses.

Trade-back scenario could land Giants Florida State standout pass rusher and draft capital

jermaine johnson, giants, seminoles

The New York Giants spent the 51st overall pick on Georgia standout pass rusher Azeez Ojulari last year, solidifying one outside linebacker spot. However, the opposite side was manned by a carrousel of players, including Quincy Roche and Lorenzo Carter. Carter finished the years strong, but that won’t spur any hesitation from taking a pass rusher in the 2022 NFL Draft, even if extended this off-season.

While players like Kayvon Thibodeaux attract the headlines, one underrated pass rusher Big Blue could target in the 1st round is Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson.

Per The Draft Network, Johnson is a great prospect who excels in every facet, making him primes for the NFL transition:

There are very few limitations with Johnson’s game and he’s a balanced defender against the run and pass with appeal in any scheme. The biggest question Johnson had to answer in 2021 was what type of impact he could make in a featured role and he absolutely aced the test. Overall, Johnson has good size, athleticism, technique, and functional strength while playing the game with tremendous urgency and features a high football IQ. Johnson has the makings of an impact starter at the next level.

Simply said, Johnson is an impact player who dominated the Senior Bowl several weeks ago. Statistically, he finished the season with 11.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss, and 70 total tackles. He also curated two forced fumbles and recovered one of them.

The Giants desperately need an impact player who can stop the run efficiently but also rush the passer at a high level. Johnson, who stands at 6’5″ and 265 pounds, would be a scheme fit in either a 4–3 base game or a 3–4 system, which is what Wink Martindale plans to deploy moving forward.

The question for the Giants is, is Johnson worth being picked with the 7th overall pick? The answer is likely not. Before the Senior Bowl, Johnson was considered a second-round grade, but he catapulted his stock, which could land him in the middle first round. Grabbing Johnson would be a stellar move, but only in a trade-back scenario.

At No. 7, the Giants will likely have plenty of options on the board, including Notre Dame stand-out safety Kyle Hamilton or Thibodeaux, who has slipped a few spots in mock drafts lately.

Nonetheless, new general manager Joe Schoen has indicated that moving back is on his radar, especially since the team is preparing for a legitimate rebuild this upcoming season. The more draft picks, the more chances Schoen and management have at landing influential players for the future. That would suggest a trade-back is a productive move, which makes Johnson a legitimate target.

It is also important to note that Johnson isn’t only a dominant player on the field, but he also has leadership capabilities and intangibles that stand out in the locker room. Having dominant alpha male traits is exactly what the Giants are looking for in the upcoming draft class.

Yankees landed a steal relief arm from Pittsburgh at the deadline, fine-tuning his strategy to perfection

yankees, Clay Holmes

The New York Yankees featured one of the league’s best bullpens last year, despite the fact they were forced to pitch significant innings due to injury concerns with the starting rotation.

A bevy of injuries and Zack Britton missing virtually the entire season put the team in a tough spot, but they managed to get by with a few additions at the trade deadline, including former Pittsburgh Pirates relief arm Clay Holmes.

Holmes had spent the previous three seasons with Pittsburgh before making his way to New York, where he posted some of his best numbers as a professional.

The Pirates simply weren’t using Holmes correctly, utilizing him against both righty and lefty hitters, leaning on his curveball far too much. Holmes threw his curveball 19.8% of the time with Pittsburgh during the first half of the season, logging a 4.93 ERA.

However, the Yankees completely revitalized his style, pitching him against righty batters only, where he saw tremendous success, reallocating his curveball to sinkers.

The Yankees gave Holmes an easy task, throw his sinker at the same spot over and over again. Essentially, they knew Holmes would miss on occasion, but those slight changes in location would be enough to keep batters on their toes and guessing where it would land.

Luckily for the Bombers, Holmes ended up recording a 1.61 ERA over 28 innings, giving up 18 hits and striking out 34 batters. Interestingly, Holmes saw a near 1 mph increase in sinker velocity, reallocating that energy away from his curveball.

Seeing the Yankees extrapolate on his strengths and maximize them was a fantastic display of coaching, and we can expect Holmes to continue performing at a high level against right-handed batters moving forward. However, the limitation is that he is a situational pitcher, but every team needs relief arms who can close out innings at the right moment.