Sportsbeat – 11/27/10

You have to laugh at the notion that new Mets manager Terry Collins is going to be able to light a fire under the collective butts of his players. The reality is that the players will perceive that Collins is little more than an inexpensive retread off the managerial scrap heap. He has never won anything and never played a game in the majors. Those are two very big strikes against a manager in a big league clubhouse.

Collins is not going to get much help this winter from the man who hired him. Sandy Alderson has made it clear that the Mets do not have any “financial flexibility” to sign any name free agents. Even worse than standing pat for the new Mets manager is the fact that ace pitcher Johan Santana will still be recovering from his latest arm surgery for at least the first half of the 2011 season.

Patriots, Shmatriots. If you want to really know if these are the same old Jets then circle December 19 on your calendar when Gang Green flies to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. The Jets have never beaten the Steelers in the Iron City and we’re talking forty years of football.

The Jets, despite their fine record, have shown some troubling flaws. I bet that Rex Ryan wishes that Jay Feely was still the team’s place kicker instead of the shaky Nick Folk. The Jets pass rush, lead by Bryan Thomas and Jason Taylor, is woeful. Houston Texans QB Matt Schaub had time to finish a Subway hero as he completed 40-yard passes at will in the fourth quarter three weeks ago thanks to the sack-less pass rush.

The combination of Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton have made the Knicks fun to watch again. The fact that they went 3-1 on their recent West Coast trip (granted they didn’t play the Lakers) is an indication that things are looking up.

The Knicks played the Charlotte Bobcats in their first game back from the west. Head coach Mike D’Antoni held his usual pre-game press conference 90 minutes prior to tip-off. Reporters had only two questions for him and the conference quickly concluded. “If I had known that winning three games in a row would quiet you guys I would have told my players to have won three in a row sooner!” he said with a hearty laugh.

The likelihood of an NBA lockout this fall has not been ignored by the Knicks players. NBA veteran Roger Mason was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that he is happy to drive an old car and that his philosophy is to save now more than ever. Mason is praying that big market owners as the Knicks’ James Dolan, the Nets’ Mikhail Prokhorov, and the Lakers’ Jerry Buss will talk sense into hardline owners and tough-talking commissioner David Stern. Rookie guard Andy Rautins told me before a game that he may look into playing in Europe if things get ugly.

While the Nets are not as awful as they were a year ago, new coach Avery Johnson is quickly realizing that the talent and professionalism of his troops isn’t up to the level that he enjoyed while coaching the Dallas Mavericks. Johnson faced his first major dilemma when Terrence Williams, the Nets’ first-round pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, missed a team bus and kept showing up late for practices. Johnson demoted Williams to the Springfield Armor of the NBA Development League.

The Nets may not much to write home about based on their play but their new owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, continues to intrigue even those who normally don’t cover sports. He was the subject of a cover story last month in the New York Times Sunday Magazine and was profiled as well by Matt Taibbi, best known for his Republican-bashing articles in Rolling Stone, in Men’s Journal.

Speaking before of the NBA Development League, Far Rockaway High School alum Nancy Lieberman, arguably the greatest female basketball player of all-time, will be coaching the Texas Legends. It marks the first time that a woman will be the head coach of a professional men’s basketball team. Expect Versus, which just obtained broadcast rights to the NBA D-League, to televise a number of Legends games. Lieberman incidentally has just authored Playbook for Success (John Wiley & Sons) in which she points out how the physical and mental preparation that goes into winning at hoops carries over into the boardroom.

Jimmie Johnson just won his fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint championship. That puts him in the same legendary class of athlete as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Roger Federer although his success is virtually ignored by WFAN and nearly every New York daily paper. The success of   both Jimmie Johnson, and rival Jeff Gordon (both of these guys have movie star looks), have helped popularize NASCAR in every part of the USA except here of course.

Kyle Petty who is an on-air personality for the SPEED Channel, and like his dad, Richard “The King” Petty, enjoyed a great racing career, readily agrees that both Johnson and Gordon have helped make NASCAR appealing for corporate America. “The weekly battles between Rick Mears, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt electrified the South but they did not expand the sport outside of Dixie,” Petty told me at a New York NASCAR event to honor Johnson’s accomplishment.

ESPN Magazine and skier Lindsey Vonn showed a great sense of humor by having her reenact Sharon Stone’s famous seated pose from the 1992 stinker of a flick, “Basic Instinct” for its cover.

Do you think that the Islanders’ recent 14-game losing streak will cost the team home ice in the playoffs?  The Isles’ cold snap cost unsmiling coach Scott Gordon his job. Gordon’s humorless post-game press conferences were torture to sit through.

The Islanders finally ended their drought by beating the equally awful NJ Devils. It’s about time that Devils’ owner Jeff Vanderbeek show some balls and give media-hating, control freak general manager Lou Lamoriello the heave-ho.

Good job by Phillips-Van Heusen to allow fans a vote for the next class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The fans’ vote is non-binding but the results are sure to influence the real voters. PVH should do the same with the Baseball Hall of Fame voting.

Hollis native Russell Simmons is one of the most successful American businessmen of the last 25 years. Simmons, who founded Def Jam Records, and then later the popular clothing brand, Phat Farm, has a new clothing company, Argyleculture. Yes, Simmons has a fondness for those diamond-shaped vests and sweaters that Alfonso Ribeiro’s Carlton Banks character wore in the old Will Smith NBC ‘80s sitcom, “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” but Argyleculture has solid-colored shirts and sweaters as well as he tries to compete with Ralph Lauren.

Simmons is frequently photographed wearing a Yankees baseball cap. Since Sandy Alderson isn’t going to sign any name free agents perhaps he can reach out to one of Queens’ greatest success stories to wear a Mets cap to help improve the team’s image.

The New York Rangers obviously depend on goalie Henryk Lundqvist but the road to the playoffs will be a lot easier if veteran understudy Martin Biron would have more games like the one he had last week where he allowed only one goal against the Calgary Flames in a 2-1 victory for the Blueshirts.

The needless demise of Tavern On the Green is certainly a blotch on the record of Mayor Bloomberg. Fortunately the New York Road Runners did a great job creating a PGA Tour-style media center at its old location. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel and the Renaissance Times Square also did a fine job hosting both the media and the NYC Marathon participants.

Another vestige of my youth is gone as the Spectrum was finally razed in Philadelphia two weeks ago.

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