Kyrie Irving plans to re-sign, ‘co-manage’ Nets

Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving could not wait for a fresh start after a tumultuous third season with the Brooklyn Nets mercifully ended in a first-round sweep.

A promising season that started with championship aspirations wound up with so many questions.

Foremost is the future of Irving with the team. But the seven-time NBA All-Star guard quickly answered that in the aftermath of their 116-112 loss to his former team, Boston Celtics, in Game 4 at home on Monday night.

“I don’t really plan on going anywhere,” Irving told reporters. This [sweep] is an added motivation for our franchise to be at the top of the league for the next few years. And I’m just looking forward to the summer and just building with our guys here.”

Irving is expected to decline his $36.9 million player option next season. He is eligible to extend for up to four years, $183.6 million, or up to five years, $247.6 million.

Durant signed a four-year, 198 million extension last summer.

Three seasons into their partnership, they have only one playoff win to show.

In the first year of their partnership, Durant did not play as he recovered from an Achilles heel injury. Irving only played 20 games after suffering a shoulder injury.

In their second year, Irving hurt his ankle in the playoffs.

Irving was reduced to a part-time player before the playoffs and played only 29 games this year.

There is plenty of blame to pass around, but their woes started when Irving decided not to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I think it was just really heavy, emotionally the season. We all felt it. I felt like I was letting the team down to a point where I wasn’t able to play. We were trying to exercise every option for me to play, but I never wanted it to just be about me. And it became a distraction at times, and you know, as you see, we just had some drastic changes,” said Irving, who admitted for the first time that his costly decision tolled heavily on the team.

It alienated James Harden, who held a silent protest and eventually got his wish to be traded to Philadelphia in exchange for Ben Simmons, who never played a single minute on the court this season.

“We lost a franchise player. And we got a franchise player back. But we didn’t get a chance to see him on the floor, and there was no pressure for him to step on the floor with us,” said Irving.

Simmons backed out of his planned season debut in Game 4 last-minute after waking up Sunday with a sore back. The Nets were reportedly confused and disheartened by Simmons’ last-minute decision, but his co-stars have publicly supported him.

“We have his back. He’s going to be good for next year,” Irving said. “But now, we just turn the page and look forward to what we’re building as a franchise and really get tougher because this is a league that’s getting younger. It’s getting more athletic, taller, and more competitive, and these young guys are hungry out here, and you see it. I can feel it.”

The Nets’ aging veterans fizzled out against the much younger, more athletic Celtics, whose size held the soon-to-be-34-year-old Durant to his worst playoff performance.

The 34-year-old LaMarcus Aldridge, who unretired to chase a ring, has not played since sustaining a hip injury earlier this month. Patty Mills, 33, regressed after the All-Star break. Goran Dragic, 35, played his best game on Tuesday night but came too late. Blake Griffin turned in spirited performances in Games 3 and 4, but clearly, he is only a shell of himself.

The Nets are limited in what they can do once Irving re-signs. They only have the $6.3 mid-level exception to offer aside from the veteran minimums. Their best assets are the two first-round picks they acquired from the Harden trade.

“When I say I’m here with Kevin, I think that it really entails us managing this franchise together alongside [team owner] Joe (Tsai) and [GM] Sean (Marks), and just our group of family members that we have in our locker room in our in our organization,” said Irving.

“So it’s not just about me and Kev. I don’t want to make it just about that. We are cornerstones here. But we have a few other guys that are on contract. And I think we just got to make some moves this offseason and really talk about it. And really be intentional about what we’re building, and have some fun with it, make it enjoyable.”

They have six guaranteed contracts (Durant, Simmons, Joe Harris, Seth Curry, Cam Thomas, and Day’Ron Sharpe) for next season. It will become eight once Irving re-signs and if Mills opts into his player option.

Unless they trade Joe Harris, it is increasingly likely, that the Nets will return next season with the same core of Durant, Irving, Simmons, and Harris.

“Hopefully, we get to start from day one just as a squad and as a family, and we just really worry about us. Sometimes I feel like the noise on the external world, and outside noise can seep in,” Irving said.

“I’m not the type of person to allow that to happen. So as we build together as a squad, I just think we need to be tougher mentally. And just be more honest about what we want to accomplish and just stick to the goal, stick to the mission.”

Sounds like a plan. But a plan without commitment usually leads to results like they had this season.

Irving has a lot of catching up in his commitment to the franchise he said he grew up watching.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

The Yankees Have a Different Problem Limiting Their Success So Far in 2022

gerrit cole, yankees

With the first 16 games of the 2022 MLB regular season completed, it’s safe to say that the New York Yankees have not looked as resilient and appealing as many fans might have hoped for, casting ripples of skepticism and nervousness throughout their fanbase as a result.

The first thing that might come to mind when thinking about this inconsistent start is the Yankees’ pitching. Prior to receiving his first win last Sunday (where he threw 6.2 scoreless innings and collected 9 strikeouts), Yankees ace Gerrit Cole has looked very shaky with his control and efficiency. Up until Sunday, Cole had the second-worst ERA on the team (6.35).

To make matters worse, he still leads the team in earned runs (8), home runs allowed (3), and walks (8). And along with Jonathan Loaisiga and Chad Green (who are both off to rough starts), it’s understandable why some might be blaming the pitching as the main culprit.

But believe it or not, outside of these three players, the Yankees’ pitching is not to blame for their rollercoaster start. In fact, the Yankees not only boast the third-best team ERA in the league (2.53), but they also rank fourth in strikeouts (159) and fifth in batting average against (.208). From their starters to their deep set of relievers, the Yankees have one of the best pitching staffs in the league and have been able to stay alive in various games this season as a result.

So if it’s not the pitching, what’s to blame then? If you haven’t guessed it already, it’s nothing but the Yankees hitting. That’s right! That stacked cast of power and contact hitters the Yankees have assembled has struggled mightily to find a way to get in a groove and get on base. Although guys like D.J. LeMahieu, Aaron Hicks, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Aaron Judge, and Anthony Rizzo have all looked much sharper as the season has progressed, everyone throughout their lineup (including these five players) has endured their fair share of lows, and it’s not looked pretty.

Despite it being early in the season, the Yankees are currently 14th in the league in batting average (.235), OBP (.314), and slugging percentage (.380). From their inability to consistently hit the ball well to finding it difficult to even get on base, the Yankees have to sharpen up their discipline at the plate, work counts, and find ways to score runs on a much more consistent basis if they want to straighten out this rickety start and gain a good lead in the division.

However, even with all of these shortcomings on offense, the greatest crux of the Yankees’ hitting woes really comes down to their ongoing struggle with taking advantage of having runners on base or in scoring position. If you thought some of those numbers were bad, the Yankees rank 26th in batting average when runners are on base (.208) and 26th with runners in scoring position (.195).

Every missed opportunity to score is yet another chance out the window for the Yankees to take a lead or accumulate the runs they need to win games. And if the Yankees plan on securing first-place honors in the AL East this year, they need to be able to deliver when they have runners on base or in the position to score.

That said, Yankee fans shouldn’t get worked up or panic with this inconsistent start and for a couple of reasons. To begin with, we’re not even 20 games into the regular season, and with well over 130 games left to go, a small hiccup to start their campaign shouldn’t be something to get worried about.

In addition, the AL East as a whole has been off to a sluggish start, and no team has definitively been able to secure the upper hand. As of right now, all five AL East teams are only split apart by four and a half games or less, and the Yankees just so happen to be half a game out from first place. At 10-6, the Yankees have won five of their last six games and have been building momentum offensively. Should they get red hot and continue to string along wins, they could be sitting comfortably in first come mid-May.

But in order to see that through, the Yankees have to improve their consistency level with getting on base and providing the run support their pitchers deserve. Until they do, their inconsistencies could persist and lead them to struggle with securing the division title they’re after.

Mets: MRI reveals improvement in deGrom’s shoulder, but he hasn’t been cleared to throw

New York Mets, Jacob deGrom

The New York Mets sent a bizarre update on the health status of their injured ace, Jacob deGrom, late on Monday. The right-hander has been out all season with a stress reaction on his right scapula, and was scheduled for imaging last week.

An MRI and CT scan taken Monday on deGrom’s right shoulder showed “considerable healing of the stress reaction on his scapula.” However, the Mets didn’t say he was allowed to throw just yet.

Instead, the star pitcher has been cleared to begin “loading and strengthening of the shoulder” and will undergo another MRI in three weeks to check his progress, per the Mets’ official site. That means his return isn’t imminent, and it could take most of the first half from the former Cy Young award winner.

As Anthony DiComo notes, the Mets’ release “didn’t say anything about a throwing program, so it would appear he won’t be cleared for that at least until the next exam.” While he is showing healing, the team is obviously not confident enough in his progress to let him start a throwing program just yet.

The Mets need deGrom

When healthy, there is no question that deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball. Last year, he covered 92 innings and had a minuscule 1.08 ERA, with a 45.1 percent strikeout rate, but he suffered elbow issues that robbed him most of the second half.

In the meantime, the Mets have the best record in baseball, at 13-5, and haven’t missed deGrom much. Most, if not all, of his rotation mates have done a fantastic job holding down the fort: Tylor Megill, Max Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco, Chris Bassitt, and even David Peterson have all been stellar, and these are good times in Queens.

To make a deep postseason run, though, the Mets will need deGrom healthy and in-form, and that’s apparently what they are shooting for with so much caution.

Yankees call-up an old friend from Triple-A, leadoff hitter goes on paternity leave

New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks hits a home-run against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The New York Yankees are gearing up to face off against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday evening after sweeping the Cleaveland Guardians over the weekend.

The Yankees currently feature a 10–6 record and have finally hit their stride both offensively and defensively. The starting pitching has been phenomenal the past few games, and the offense finally came to play in the final game against Cleveland, recording a healthy 10 runs.

However, before Tuesday’s home game against Baltimore, the Yankees announced they had placed outfielder Aaron Hicks on paternity leave (congratulations to Aaron and his family!).

With Hicks now unavailable for the next few games, at least, the team announced they had called up Miguel Andujar from AAA to help supplement his loss. Hicks had taken over nicely as the team’s lead-off hitter, hitting .273 to open the year with one homer and four RBIs. His 16.7% strikeout rate is one of the lowest on the team, and he also boasts a 14.8% walk rate.

Over 13 games with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Andújar is hitting .347 with three homers and six RBIs over 53 plate appearances. He features an 18.9% strikeout rate and 7.5% walk rate but has showcased his offensive capabilities.

Defensively, Miggy has featured at multiple positions, including third base, left field, and as the team’s DH. Over 44 innings on the hot corner in AAA, Andújar allowed two errors. He was efficient in the left-field position over 45 innings, but the Yankees will likely try to keep him out of the outfield until Hicks returns, if possible.

I would expect Andujar to serve as the team’s DH or only fill a supplemental role if need be since Tim Locastro has looked good in recent days and should cover for Hicks.

 

Yankees: Miguel Andujar could place more pressure on Joey Gallo

New York Yankees, Miguel Andujar

The New York Yankees have called up former Rookie of the Year runner-up Miguel Andujar. The team made the announcement this morning that Andujar was being recalled with Aaron Hicks going on the Paternity List as his wife is expecting their new baby.

While Andujar coming up could be looked at as simply filling the spot until Hicks returns, there could be an underlying story to watch. Miguel Andujar is off to a tremendous start this year in AAA while playing some left field.

So far in thirteen games for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Andujar is slashing .347/.396/.947. During those thirteen games, Andujar has divided his team pretty evenly between left field and third base. He’s actually looked decent in the field this year out in left.

Questions never surrounded Andujar’s ability to hit. There were just questions from the Yankees regarding his fielding. His third base defense continues to look shaky as he’s already committed two errors in just five games. However, I think the plan moving forward is to keep him in left as much as possible.

Yankees have options outside of Gallo

That is where the potential pressure comes in on Joey Gallo. The Yankees made a huge trade during the deadline last year to bring in the Gold Glove outfielder who has some serious pop in his bat. Problem is, we haven’t seen a fraction of the player he was in Texas.

Gallo has struggled massively during his time with New York. So far this year, he’s batting .146 with no home runs and only one RBI. He’s also struck out 22 times in sixteen games. Now, Gallo did look better in the weekend sweep of the Guardians picking up a couple of hits and having some quality at-bats.

However, Andujar is someone who could make a quick impact for the Yankees. If Andujar gets to play and he shows up red hot, it’s going to put even more pressure on Joey Gallo to perform.

We are already seeing the Yankees limiting Gallo’s playing time from being an every day player. Yes, he’s still in the lineup most days, but we’ve already seen Boone hold him out of spots due to his struggles.

If Andujar plays decent in left while swinging a hot bat, Gallo could be in even more trouble in terms of playing time. Now, I think the Yankees are going to keep him in the lineup as much as possible due to his hitting from the left side and power potential.

However, if he doesn’t start to perform at a higher level soon, it’s going to be really hard justifying his playing time. Good news for the Yankees is they have a quality option in Miguel Andujar. Question is whether or not they will actually go to that option.

Where the Bantamweight Grand Prix stands after Bellator 279

This past weekend, we saw the first round of matchups in the Bellator Bantamweight World Grand Prix. Two fighters punched their tickets to the semifinal round and an alternate punched his ticket to a quarterfinal matchup.

Things got started at Bellator 278 on Friday night when Danny Sabatello (12-1) took on Jornel Lugo. Sabatello was able to put on a great performance and he also got an A+ in terms of his post-fight promo.

His decision victory punched his ticket to the quarterfinals where he will meet Leandro Higo in June. Then, the action turned to Saturday night where we saw the biggest matchups of the weekend at Bellator 279.

Kicking things off was a matchup between Patchy Mix (16-1) and Kyoji Horiguchi (29-5). Horiguchi was coming off of a brutal loss to Sergio Pettis where it looked like he had the bantamweight title won. After dominating three and a half rounds, Horiguchi was caught with a spinning backfist.

Given his long track record of success, I really liked him to advance at Bellator 279. However, Patchy Mix had other plans. Mix was able to land takedowns in three rounds and secure top position long enough to secure the rounds. In the end, all three judges gave him the fight 48-47.

Bellator’s New Interim Champion

Following that matchup, we saw the interim title on the line between Raufeon Stots (18-1) and former bantamweight champion Juan Archuleta (25-4). Originally, Stots was supposed to face Sergio Pettis for the undisputed bantamweight title at Bellator 279.

However, Pettis tore his ACL and was forced out of the Grand Prix. That’s how this interim title came to be. Stots looked tremendous in this matchup, but Archuleta was able to hold his own until the third round.

In the third round, Stots landed a big headkick which floored Archuleta. A few follow up elbows led to the referee stopping the fight and awarding the Bellator interim bantamweight championship to Raufeon Stots.

Here is where things currently stand after this past weekend:

In terms of who should be favored moving forward, I don’t know how you don’t bet on Raufeon Stots. Outside of a quick spinning backfist loss to Merab Dvalishvili years ago, Stots has been perfect in his professional career.

He continues to look better and better and I don’t see anyone stopping him from winning this Bellator Grand Prix. If I was to predict the finals, I would say that we are heading for a matchup between Stots and Patchy Mix with the winner lining up to welcome back Sergio Pettis.

Francis Ngannou wants to resign with UFC if he gets to box Tyson Fury

Francis Ngannou

The UFC‘s heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou (17-3) is currently recovering from knee surgery that took place last month. Ngannou had damage to his ACL and MCL repaired following his win over Ciryl Gane that took place back in January.

The win over Gane was Ngannou’s first title defense in the UFC. After the fight was over, there were a lot of questions surrounding Ngannou’s future with the promotion. There has been some hostility between Ngannou’s camp and the promotion on the terms of a new contract.

Ngannou made a flat $600,000 before PPV for his last fight against Gane. The UFC had made attempts to resign Ngannou to a long-term deal with higher pay, but Ngannou and his management weren’t on the same page in regards to the terms.

One of the biggest sticking points for the heavyweight champion was his ability to box. Ngannou has been very open about what he wants from the UFC. He wants a massive payday that would allow him to box the best heavyweight in the world, Tyson Fury.

Boxing vs UFC: Heavyweight Edition?

Ngannou is a superstar and he’s a knockout machine for the UFC. The heavyweight champion’s contract currently expires at the end of 2022 and Ngannou is targeting a return at the end of the year. Previously, he has said that he will not fight again under his current UFC contract.

At one point, it was hard to see the sides ever coming together. However, Ngannou seemed much more open to resigning yesterday when he appeared on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Hour. Ngannou talked about the fact that there are still big fights in the UFC he wants and he definitely wants to resign.

However, there’s a big IF in there. The heavyweight champion says that he will only resign with the promotion if they allow him to do a special-rules matchup with the boxing heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.

Over this past weekend, Fury knocked out Dillian Whyte in the sixth round of their title fight. After the fight was over, Fury said that he was done with prize fighting in terms of heavyweight boxing. However, he called Ngannou over in the ring with him and talked about what he wants.

Fury said that he wants a special-rules matchup with the heavyweight champion to see who the baddest man in the world is. Per the fighters, they would fight in an octagon with four-ounce gloves but they would only be allowed to box.

I have no idea if the UFC would actually do this, but it would be a massive event. To me, if you’re going to let Conor McGregor box Floyd Mayweather, the UFC should absolutely be open to letting this special-rules fight happen with Ngannou and Fury.

Will it happen?

Tyson Fury’s contract with Top Rank and ESPN also came to a close with his win on Saturday night. That could be another key to having this fight come together. I don’t see any scenario where Bob Arum and Dana White work together so Fury not being tied to Arum is a huge key that opens the door.

The UFC is not going to let Ngannou walk. He’s too big (no pun intended) for their heavyweight division. If it comes down to it, I find it hard to believe that they would walk away from the massive money-maker that would be Francis Ngannou – Tyson Fury.

Here’s my guess of what’s going to happen. Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic are going to fight over the summer for the interim heavyweight championship. The UFC is going to go back to Ngannou with a deal that says he must fight the winner in December.

However, there will be a clause that states if he wins, he can box Tyson Fury in 2023. This would make Ngannou once again bet on himself but it would give him the keys to what he wants.

Can you imagine how much bigger the Fury – Ngannou fight would be if Ngannou was coming off of defeating Jon Jones? However, if Jon Jones or Stipe Miocic were to defeat Ngannou, it would allow the UFC an out from making the fight happen.

Ben Rothwell opens up on new BFKC deal after requesting UFC release

Ben Rothwell

News broke this week that former top heavyweight UFC contender “Big” Ben Rothwell (39-14) signed an exclusive deal with BKFC. The deal comes on the heels of his UFC release which recently took place.

Prior to being released, Rothwell was tentatively scheduled to face off against Alexander Gustafsson in May. However, the 40 year old decided to request his release and the UFC granted his wish. That wish led to a big contract with BKFC.

Rothwell opened up to everything yesterday on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Hour. He talked about the fact that there was no bad blood between him in the UFC but the move was more of a business decision and I think he made the right one.

Rothwell talked about his place in the heavyweight division along with what he was currently getting paid. After he was released, BKFC came forward with a big offer that is going to see Rothwell making more than he ever has.

Rothwell is what BKFC wanted

BKFC President David Feldman told MMA Junkie that Rothwell is exactly what they wanted in terms of a free agent. Feldman said that the promotion knew that Rothwell’s contract was coming up after his next UFC fight and they were prepared to make him an offer.

However, after he was released and became available earlier than expected, they didn’t want to miss out. Feldman said, “It was the perfect time to grab him. He’s a guy that displays everything we need with Bare Knuckle… He’s exactly what we want, a guy who is either going to knock someone out or stand and get knocked out.”

Rothwell’s style fits right in with BKFC and the promotion is thrilled to have him. You know they are thrilled given the money they threw at him. Rothwell told Ariel Helwani that he would make over seven figures combined for his first three fights with BKFC.

Giants Draft Rumors: CB Kaiir Elam out of Florida could be on draft radar

If the New York Giants are planning on trading or cutting cornerback James Bradberry, they will need to draft a CB to replace him alongside Adoree Jackson. There are several phenomenal secondary prospects available in the first round, including Derek Stingley and Sauce Gardner, but there is another name that has been rumored to be of interest within the Giants’ organization.

Florida defensive back Kaiir Elam could be high on the Giants’ draft board, but given he is a late first-round prospect, he could ultimately be a trade-back target.

Elam is an intriguing prospect, featuring in 657 total snaps last year, including 359 in coverage for the Gators. He allowed a 52.8% completion rate for 191 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.

At 6’2″ and 192 pounds, the Florida native has a great frame and plenty of experience to help him translate to the NFL. However, the majority of his problematic performances came in 2021, whereas his best games are mostly in 2020, when he gave up just a 42.6% completion rate.

NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein isn’t entirely high on Elam, noting his inconsistencies:

Elam is the next up in a long line of talented Florida cornerbacks, but he failed to play his best football in his final collegiate season. He is patient and strong to mirror and impede releases but inconsistent staying connected to the early stages of the route. He plays with good awareness in zone and has the twitch and length to make plays on the throw when squatting in space. He was beat on deep patterns against Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia, which might have led to excessive grabbing and an overall lack of trust in his technique on the 2021 tape. He plays big at the catch point but smaller in run support. Elam has early CB3 and eventual CB2 value as a press and zone corner.
Elam is mostly utilized as a boundary corner, spending 473 snaps on the outside, 89 in the slot, at 86 as a box safety. With physicality and solid physical traits, he projects as a probable starter in the NFL, but he may struggle as a press-man coverage corner. Elam might be best utilized in a zone scheme, which may not make him an immediate fit for the Giants, considering Wink Martindale’s aggressive Cover-1 style.

Another concern regarding Elam is his penalties, using his hands too frequently to disrupt receivers and hold on during the break of their routes. Elam was penalized seven times in 10 games last year, and that problem won’t simply disappear at the NFL level.

The Giants have the draft position to get the cream of the crop at defensive back, and if they do plan on parting ways with Bradberry, they should be extremely careful replacing him at CB2 in a scheme that heavily relies on great corner play.

Yankees have one of the most underrated relief arms in baseball

yankees, Clay Holmes

While most of the attention has revolved around the Yankees‘ starting rotation, their bullpen remains the strong point on the team through 16 games. Enjoying a day off after a series sweep against the Cleaveland Guardians, we were able to reflect on how well the starting rotation has played up to this point, despite a rocky start.

Ace Gerrit Cole finally got back on track against Cleveland, tossing 91 pitches and allowing one hit over six innings on Sunday. Of course, Cole will get the majority of headlines, but even youngsters Michael King and Clarke Schmidt have been at the top of the news pecking order after several quality outings.

However, one relief arm hasn’t gone enough attention, five-year veteran Clay Holmes. The Yankees acquired Holmes from the Pittsburgh Pirates last year, and most were a bit confused by the acquisition. Holmes featured a 4.93 ERA with Pittsburgh over 42 innings, but the Yankees completely changed his approach, lowering his ERA to 1.61 and increasing his strikeouts per 9 to 10.93.

So far this season, Holmes features a 1.17 ERA over 7.2 innings, curating an 85% ground ball rate and 85.7% left on base rate. It is quite clear that Holmes is one of the Yankees’ top relief arms and might be one of the more underrated players in the league.

Hosting a lethal sinker, Holmes threw it 73.2% of the time last year with the Bombers compared to 51.2% with Pittsburgh during the first half of the season. So far in 2022, Holmes is throwing it 85.6% at 96.3 mph, even taking away some of his slider, lowering its usage to 14.4% compared to a combined 27.6% last year.

Even though opposing batters know Holmes is going to throw his sinker nearly every pitch, its incredible movement and velocity continue to force an impressive 45.3% O-Swing% (Percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone). In fact, Holmes currently features the second-highest SwStr% of his entire career at 17.5% (Percentage of strikes a batter swung at and missed).

Another fantastic metric is his barrel percentage which sits at 0.0% and a -10 launch angle. Altogether, it is clear that Clay is playing the best ball his entire career wearing pinstripes, and he should be getting far more attention given how reliable and dominant he’s been to open the year in the bullpen.