Robinson’s contract extension talks cast large shadow over Knicks’ fall to dominant Embiid, 76ers

Joel Embiid destroyed both Mitchell Robinson and rookie Jericho Sims while James Harden notched a triple-double.

The new 76ers star duo was unstoppable in the Philadelphia 76ers’ 125-109 win over the New York Knicks Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

The 76ers used a 19-4 closing run to break away from a tight 106-105 lead with 7:01 left.

It was the Knicks’ 15th loss in the last 18 games as they continue to fade from the play-in scenario and fall into the NBA Draft lottery range.

Embiid and Harden played off each other, combining for 33 of the 76ers’ NBA season-high 39 free throws. There was nothing the Knicks could do to stop them.

“Unstoppable,” Embiid told reporters after the game describing his two-man game with Harden.

Embiid was dominant with 37 points, nine rebounds, and three blocks. He made a living at the stripes, sinking 23 out of 27 free throws. Harden matched his season-high in assists with 16 to add to his 29 points and 10 rebounds. The 76ers improved to 2-0 with Harden in the lineup since the blockbuster trade deadline swap with Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and future picks.

Robinson and Sims fouled out consecutively early in the fourth quarter to hasten the Knicks’ demise.

Sims played admirably, filling in for backup center Nerlens Noel, who is reportedly nursing a plantar fasciitis injury. Sims grabbed 10 rebounds — all in the first half — and added two assists, one steal, and one block in more than 18 minutes on the floor. But he fouled out with 9:14 left.

A little more than 20 seconds later, Robinson soon followed. Robinson went out with an underwhelming performance anew. He finished with only six points and four rebounds in more than 16 minutes.

Before the game, NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Robinson’s ongoing contract extension talks with the Knicks are becoming a cause of concern.

“For the Knicks, Greeny (Mike Greenberg), the looming free agency of their 23-year-old starting center, Mitchell Robinson—it’s a concern for New York,” Wojnarowski said in the NBA Countdown. “They’ve had talks with his agent, Thad Foucher, about an extension throughout the season. The Knicks can pay Robinson, under the collective bargaining agreement, four years and upward of $48 million before June 30. They’ve not reached an agreement on that, and it’s unclear that they will before free agency when Robinson will be unrestricted.”

Robinson already strung up three consecutive duds that started with a two-point, seven-rebound performance against Drummond and the Brooklyn Nets before the All-Star break. He was held scoreless for the first time this season against Bam Adebayo and Miami Heat last Friday. It coincided with the reports of Robinson’s father went missing for close to two weeks before being found safely earlier this week in Missouri.

Robinson posted a cryptic post on his Instagram story following his scoreless performance against the Heat.

The Knicks have resisted dealing Robinson at the trade deadline despite reportedly drawing interests from several teams, including the Detroit Pistons, who will have plenty of cap space this summer, according to an SNY report.

RJ Barrett and Evan Fournier led the Knicks with 24 apiece.

Barrett continued his ascent with another solid game to follow up his career-high 46-point effort. He added five rebounds and six assists, but his foul shooting woes continued making only 6 of 10 free throws. Fournier was limited to only one field goal attempt in the fourth quarter, which he missed, after torching the 76ers with six treys in the first three quarters.

Immanuel Quickley came out of his shooting funk and exploded for 21 points, but it was not enough to bail out the Knicks. Julius Randle finished with a quiet 16 points while adding 10 rebounds and seven assists.

The Knicks slumped to 11 games under .500 (25-36) and 4.5 games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the final play-in spot with 21 games left. They will face the 76ers again on Wednesday to begin their make-or-break seven-game road trip that will conclude against their crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets two Sundays from now.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

The Yankees face big starting pitching problems ahead

New York Yankees, Luis Severino

The New York Yankees taking their time during the first portion of free agency could come back to bite them in the butt. Teams spent a tremendous amount of money to scoop up players before the lockout commenced.

Already off the board: Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman, Eduardo Rodriguez, and many more, leaving the Yankees with a small pool of available targets once free agency opens back up. They could look toward Zack Greinke, who is preparing to turn 39 years old this year, or Clayton Kershaw from the Los Angeles Dodgers. The pickings are slim, especially after losing Corey Kluber this off-season to the Tampa Bay Rays.

When looking at the Yankees’ current situation, they have Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, Jameson Taillon, Luis Severino, and Domingo German.

Taillon is still working his way back from torn ligaments in his ankle suffered at the end of the 2021 season, pitching in 29 games last year. Having been acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates last off-season in hopes of injecting talent into the rotation, Taillon finished with a 4.30 ERA over 144.1 innings. He tallied a career-low 33.2% ground ball rate but did have a 73.1% left on base rate.

Looking at Taillon’s specific pitches, he saw a tremendous increase in fastball usage, which is in line with the Yankees’ strategy. He threw his fastball nearly 50% of the time compared to 27% in 2019. His sinker reduced tremendously to 5.5% from a career average of 22.7%. He mixed in his change-up, slider, and curveball normally. With his fastball velocity down over 1 mph, it was clear that Taillon was still working his way back from Tommy John surgery and wasn’t fully healthy.

The team needs Jameson to be at the best of his capabilities next season, otherwise, the Yankees will find themselves in a difficult position once again in the middle of the rotation. Severino presents another liability, having pitched just 18 innings over the past three years combined. He did get a bit of action at the end of the 2021 season, recording six innings, but it was so minimal the team can’t possibly rely on him as a consistent starter moving forward without testing him in a bullpen role first.

Right off the bat, we have two significant starters who have missed ample time and proven to be liabilities. That doesn’t exactly brew optimism regarding the team’s strength and depth at the position.

The obvious weakness in the rotation leads us to free agency, where the Yankees have a small pool to choose from. This could suggest that general manager Brian Cashman looks to others for a potential trade, bringing in a low-key talent that won’t cost them an arm and a leg.

How the Giants can create $40 million in cap space this off-season

New York Giants, Blake Martinez, James Bradberry

Former New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman left the team in shambles after departing this past season. The salary cap is in disarray, and the Giants have one of the least talented teams yet spent an obscene amount of money on players, indicating poor management and strategy the past four seasons.

With ownership bringing in former Buffalo Bills assistant manager Joe Schoen to lead the charge and start a new era, the first thing he must do is shed dead weight and find money to spend this off-season toward a rebuild.

Schoen has been incredibly outgoing regarding the team’s needs and issues, noting how little flexibility they have in salary space, which will, unfortunately, require them to cut players.

“It’s a concern and it’s real,” Schoen said of the cap situation. “Kevin Abrams and I haven’t talked about it yet. We looked at it, we’re going to get together at the end of the week or first of next week to start formulating a plan, but we’re going to have to get below the salary cap.

Schoen continued on to detail a strategy that involves evaluating every player and determining if their contract is worth retaining.

“Obviously, we’re going to have to clear some money, but when the new head coach gets in here, the new staff, we’re going to get together, we’re going to watch the film, we’re going to evaluate everybody, we’re going to talk to the support staff. Who are the guys that kind of fit the vision that we’re looking for? Who are the guys that are going to buy into the program? Then, we’ll make educated decisions once we have more information. There are going to be difficult decisions that are going to have to be made.”

How the Giants can open up $40 million in cap space:

Current cap: -$12.2 million 

Cut – James Bradberry: $12.1 million

While Bradberry has performed well since signing a three-year, $43.5 million deal with the Giants, he’s not exactly a scheme fit in Wink Martindale‘s man coverage system. Bradberry excels in zone coverage, so the Giants may look to shed his salary hit and look toward another option. Clearing $12.1 million will provide plenty of mobility, just about bringing them into a positive cap situation.

Cut – Blake Martinez: $8.5 million

Blake Martinez is a fan favorite, but the Giants could sacrifice him due to salary concerns — it is unlikely an alternative team is willing to pay him $14 million per season (his cap hit for 2022). Either the Giants can release him, and he can pursue an opportunity elsewhere, or he can agree to a new contract that lowers his AAV.

Cut – Riley Dixon: $2.8 million

After signing a lucrative deal for a punter, Riley Dixon struggled considerably last season. Given he’s set to earn $2.8 million with only $320K guaranteed, he’s almost a guaranteed cap cut.

Cut – Kyle Rudolph: $5 million

The Giants tried to bring in a red zone threat last off-season in Kyle Rudolph, but it was clear he lost a step, and the Giants’ offense was incapable of getting him the ball regardless. Set to earn $7.4 million, the Giants can save $5 million, making this decision an easy one.

Cut – Sterling Shepard (post-June 1): $8.5 million

When healthy, Sterling Shepard is one of the team’s best offensive weapons, but he struggled to play consistently during his career. Having torn his Achilles at the end of the 2021 season, the Giants might not have a choice but to release him, and they would save a bit more if they wait until post-June 1.

Cut – Devontae Booker: $2.1 million

It seems as if management is keen on retaining Saquon Barkley for the final year of his contract, so releasing Devontae Booker and saving his $2.1 million salary hit might be the best course of action. Booker has $1 million guaranteed, but the money that Schoen can allocate elsewhere is too good to pass up.

Cut – Kaden Smith: $2.5 million

Kaden Smith never received a fair opportunity to feature as the team’s primary tight end, but given his entire contract is not guaranteed, the team can easily save $2.5 million on his salary and replace him with an equal player at a lower cost. Smith is also a fan favorite, so unless he’s willing to negotiate a lower deal, he will likely hit free agency as well.

=$41.5 million in savings  

Yankee and MLB News: Players furious over owners refusal to compromise

New York Yankees, Gerrit Cole

The New York Yankees and all of baseball have now entered its 88th day of the dragging on negotiations to achieve a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that expired on December 1, 2021. During the first half of the postseason, the sides showed no urgency in getting anything done. But, now, in the last weeks, there has been a flurry of activity. Some of that activity has been somewhat encouraging, but the sides are still far apart on some major issues.

With spring training games already canceled, the owners produced their last proposals, which the players rejected. The players came back with a set of compromises that the owners soundly rejected, seemingly unwilling to come together for a resolution. This angered many players on the player’s union executive committee, putting talks in limbo. There is now a good chance that the regular season will not start on time. MLB says that if any games are to be canceled, they will not be made up.

At this point, it seems that the owners just want to win on the major points of contention, which has drawn the sides even further apart, as both sides want to make progress. The union has said that they are tired of losing out on these employer-employee negotiations and don’t intend to lose out again.

The MLBPA made a significant compromise proposal to the league yesterday. After the meeting, the results were not happy for either side. The owners reportedly “reacted badly” to the proposal, which saw the union attempt to compromise with MLB issues, including the arbitration system and the CBT. In the first half of the meeting, the players’ side was reportedly furious. That’s when the sides split off to private meetings. That was the start of things getting ugly. The players came back with more compromises which were quickly rejected, causing even more animosity between the sides, halting yet again the negotiations.

Early this morning, there is no news on whether the sides will meet again today. One thing is for sure, the longer the sides can’t come to a compromise, the more likely regular-season games will be canceled. Zack Britton and Gerrit Cole are both New York Yankee representatives to the Players Association.

“I was at our PA meeting in AZ, and it was exciting to see solidarity this high,” Cole tweeted. “We had 100+ players show up and are united to protect the integrity of the game.”

The present meetings between the two sides are being held at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, home of the spring training Marlins and Cardinals, in Jupiter, Florida.

What the Giants’ defensive line could look like in a perfect draft scenario

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

While attention continues to flow toward the offensive line regarding the New York Giants’ off-season plans, holding two first-round picks in the top 10 selections provides tons of value for new general manager Joe Schoen and his coaching staff.

Schoen can move in several different directions, but acquiring a premium pass rusher should be at the top of his wish list. Good football teams are built through the trenches, so adding another pass rusher to the Giants’ rotation can significantly booster defensive efforts, after hiring new coordinator Wink Martindale to replace Patrick Graham.

Recent reports have indicated that Oregon standout outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux could slip several spots, making him available for the Giants with the 5th or 7th overall selections.

It was only a few weeks ago that Thibodeau was considered arguably the number one pick in the draft, and similar to Micah Parsons and Rashawn Slater last year, teams ended up stealing them after the top 10 picks had already been chosen.

A Giants defensive front consisting of Thibodeaux would give them a young group filled with cost-controlled contracts and one veteran leader who signed a big extension signed last off-season.

Projecting the New York Giants’ 2022 defensive line:

LOLB: Kayvon Thibodeaux

DE: Leonard Williams

DT: Austin Johnson

DE: Dexter Lawrence

ROLB: Azeez Ojulari

Williams signed a three-year, $63 million deal under Dave Gettleman’s leadership and is set to count $27.3 million this season. The Giants are unable to move on from his contract unless a team is willing to acquire him via trade, which is highly unlikely.

Alongside Williams comes Dexter Lawrence, who has disappointed the past few years after showcasing potential during his rookie campaign. Lawrence recorded three sacks, nine QB hits, and 31 hurries in 2021, posting his best pass rush grade but worst run defense grade over three seasons.

Former Georgia pass rusher Azeez Ojulari had a solid rookie season, tallying eight sacks, 49 tackles, and eight tackles for loss. If Ojulari can improve his run defense and provide more physicality off the edge, the Giants could have one of them or underrated defensive fronts in football.

Injecting Thibodeaux into the mix would provide the Giants even more fire-power off the edge. With Oregon this past season, he recorded seven sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 49 total tackles, and two forced fumbles over 10 games.

Joe Schoen has indicated how important cost-controlled deals are to building a team, particularly at essential positions like pass rusher, offensive tackle, cornerback, and quarterback. If the Giants can grab two high upside players in the first round to aid that ideology, they will be heading in the right direction in the first year after a major front office overhaul.

Ranking the Yankees’ top free-agent targets for the 2022 off-season

freddie freeman, yankees

The New York Yankees are gearing up for an aggressive free agency once the lockout finally comes to an end, despite owners and the players union failing to come to an agreement on Saturday. With just days until regular-season games would have to be postponed, things aren’t looking good for a full 2022 season, but even if they play half the campaign, New York will have to add players at some point in time.

Having been connected to several different free agents this off-season, the Yankees only have so much money to spend, depending on the luxury tax threshold established through the new CBA. Owner Hal Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman stayed put before the lockout commenced, hoping they could achieve more financial security before spending big money on new players.

Ranking the Yankees’ top free-agent targets:

1.) 1B Freddie Freeman

Recent reports indicate that the Yankees could aggressively pursue after first baseman Freddie Freeman. Coming off a World Series victory with the Atlanta Braves, Freeman posted a .300 average with 31 homers and 83 RBIs this past season, including a 15.4% strikeout rate and 12.2% walk rate. Defensively, Freeman is nothing special, hovering around the average mark. Offensively, Freeman could sniff 40 home runs in the Yankee stadium, featuring a short right porch.

Freeman is expected to land a six-year deal worth over $150 million, which would take up a significant portion of the Yankees’ available funds. Considering Cashman also has to include the extension of DJ LeMahieu that kicks in next season and Aaron Judge’s mega-deal, he has to spend his money carefully this year.

2.) Seiya Suzuki

The Yankees love their sluggers, which makes Japanese star outfielder Seiyu Suzuki even more attractive. At 27 years old, Suzuki recorded a .317 average with 38 homers last season and 88 RBIs. As a capable outfielder in center and right field, Suzuki would plug a big reserve hole, costing about $55 million over five years.

Suzuki’s capabilities reportedly enticed the Yankees before the lockout, and they will likely be right back in the mix once they’re legally able to negotiate.

3.) Trevor Story

There are concerns over Trevor Story’s arm strength, which could hurt his value as a shortstop for the future. At 29 years old, Story is an above-average solution at SS, a position the Yankees desperately need to plug this off-season.

In 2021, the Colorado Rockies infielder recorded a .251 average with 24 homers and 75 RBIs. He also collected 20 stolen bases. Story fits the Yankees’ offensive mold perfectly and provides above-average defense, which is another benefit. The only issue is that the Yankees will have to overspend on a yearly basis for Story if they want him to sign a short-term contract.

4.) Andrelton Simmons

If Cashman wants to take a more price-efficient route this off-season, Andrelton Simmons of the Minnesota Twins could fit the bill nicely. At 32 years old, Simmons posted a .223 average with three homers and 31 RBIs last year over 131 games. Simmons is known for his contact-hitting, smacking double-digit homers just three times in his 10-year career.

However, he is a defensive stud, winning four gold gloves in his career and recording a .976 fielding percentage last year in Minnesota. Offensively, he’s not the most attractive option on the market for the Yankees, but if they are looking for a defensive maestro, he would be the best option at his price tag.