By Lloyd Carroll
The Knicks made news at last week’s NBA Draft, not so much for their selection of DePaul forward Wilson Chandler in the first round, but rather because team president and general manager Isiah “Zeke” Thomas traded forward Channing Frye and guard Steve Francis to the Portland Trailblazers for power forward Zach Randolph.
In terms of talent, the trade greatly favors the Knicks. Randolph averaged 23.6 points per game last year and those numbers have to light up the eyes of Knicks fans who watched their team constantly struggle putting the ball in the hoop, particularly when Stephon Marbury’s scoring touch went cold. Randolph can also grab rebounds, and that has also been a glaring Knicks weakness in recent years.
The big question: Why was Portland so eager to deal Randolph when it was clear that he could be a perfect complement to center Greg Oden whom the team selected with the first pick in the draft? The answer is that Randolph is one of the reasons that the team was often mocked as “the Jailblazers” because so many of their players ran afoul of the law and basically ignored team rules. Randolph was a leading offender. After telling Trailblazers management that he had to attend a funeral, he was found a few hours later in a strip club. Well, I guess we all different ways of handling grief. Good luck, Isiah.
The New Jersey Nets kept up their tradition of taking talented players in the first round that have had their share of off-court problems. Last year, they selected point UConn point guard Marcus Williams despite the fact that he pleaded guilty for stealing computers from campus dorm rooms. This year, they chose Boston College forward Sean Williams, a notorious shot blocker who was suspended halfway through the past college season for alleged heavy use of marijuana. You have to wonder about Williams because his coach, former Nets guard Al Skinner, is known for his patience and his desire to give his players second, and in some cases, third chances. Nets fans will remember that their team’s 2005 postseason hopes were dashed when center Cliff Robinson failed a drug test because of his recreational use of hemp.
The biggest winner at the NBA Draft was Greg Oden – and not only because he was the top choice. Oden displayed a far greater maturity and wit than could be expected from a 19-year-old basketball prodigy. Oden listened intently as he patiently fielded queries from the media at the NBA’s traditional pre-draft availability session last Wednesday. He said that he was not upset at the prospect of playing in the NBA’s smallest market, a fact that normally does not bode well for television advertising deals. “If I both play and serve the Portland community wel,l then the promotional offers will follow.” He did concede that Oregon’s most famous citizen, Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight, was thrilled to have a potential NBA superstar playing a stone’s throw from his company’s worldwide headquarters in Beaverton, and made him an endorsement offer he couldn’t refuse.
One player who will be experiencing climate shock is forward Corey Brewer from the two-time NCAA champs Florida Gators who was selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Brewer has a sunny disposition but his smile quickly disappeared when I asked him about the harsh winters in the Twin Cities. “I really did not think about that until now,” he told me. Brewer’s counterpart at rival Florida State, forward Al Thornton, was selected Clippers who of course play in balmy Los Angeles. “I’m gonna buy Corey a warm coat as a present,” Thornton said with a devilish smile.
Kevin Durant, the University of Texas power forward chosen second by the Seattle Supersonics, told me that he was not thinking about the NBA Draft when the Longhorns played the St. John’s Red Storm during the 2006 Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden. I don’t think that he was being 100 percent truthful.
Anucha Browne Sanders, the former Knicks VP who is suing Isiah Thomas and Madison Square Garden for unjustified employment termination based on her previous complaint of sexual harassment, now says that Thomas encouraged members of the Knicks City Dancers troupe to visit the referees locker room before a game so that they would be favorably be disposed to making calls in the home team’s favor. And to believe that there are cynical Knicks fans out there who don’t believe that Thomas does everything he can to help the Knicks win. I wonder if Zeke will add a few former Chippendale’s dancers to the Knicks now that the NBA is hiring more female refs.
Perhaps the New York Islanders theme song for next season should be my all-time favorite Bruce Springsteen single, “One Step Up,” from the 1987 Tunnel Of Love album. The song’s signature chorus line is “One step up and two steps back” and that seems to apply to every move the Isles make. The team sent a king’s ransom to Edmonton to obtain free agent-to-be Ryan Smith. Islanders GM Garth Snow fully expected the team to re-sign him. Smith, of course, just left for the airier climes of Denver where he will play for the Avalanche. Even worse, the team’s best player the last few seasons, Jason Blake, left as well as he will head north to Toronto.
The New York Rangers were on the plus side of the free agent game as they inked Buffalo Sabres co-captain Chris Drury and former New Jersey Devil Scott Gomez. The Rangers had better hope that Gomez produces better results than the last free agent they nabbed from New Jersey, center Bobby Holik.
I have heard of the Sports Illustrated jinx but I am beginning to wonder if there is a bobblehead doll jinx as well. On the last Mets home stand, Gold’s Food Products (best known for their hot dog mustard) announced that they would be giving away Paul LoDuca bobbleheads on June 24. The night before the promotion, LoDuca got thrown out of a game for arguing balls and strikes when he is batting. Not a smart move for a catcher who needs as large a strike zone for his pitcher. He further went crazy by tossing everything he could from the Mets dugout, which of course led to a suspension. Shortly after that, he took flak for criticizing the media for failing to interview Mets players whose first language is Spanish. The truth is, LoDuca is completely justified here. Most of the Hispanic players on the Mets are more than happy to talk with reporters and they really appreciate it when an English-speaking reporter makes an attempt at conversing in Spanish with them. Sure, Carlos Delgado will start speaking 110 miles per hour when he wants to blow me off, and Julio Franco will beg me to stop speaking Spanish because it hurts his ears, but it is all in good fun.
I have never seen Yankees manager Joe Torre display a more painful grimace than when Scott Proctor walked the Baltimore Orioles around the bases in the ninth inning of a game during the Bronx Bombers’ last road trip. Whatever air was left in the Yanks’ balloon seemed to dissipate when the team lost two out of three at the Stadium to the Oakland Athletics,who had just dropped seven out of eight games before meeting up with the Yankees. Even worse, Yanks’ killer Mike Piazza was still on the disabled list.
No one will know for sure what caused World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Chris Benoit to snap and kill his wife and son before hanging himself. The assumption that it was some form of a reaction to steroids will be the public’s perception no matter what the coroner says. In the past, wrestlers such as Curt Hennig, Rick Rude, Eddie Guerrero, and Davey Boy Smith only hurt themselves as they died far too young. This time, there were others who were mortally affected. You have to wonder if the WWE’s main television outlets, the USA Network for “Monday Night Raw” and the CW Network for “Friday Night Smackdown,” will feel Imus-like heat to cancel the WWE.
While it is easy to condemn Vince McMahon, it should be pointed out that the WWE contacted the Georgia police as soon as they believed that something horrible might have happened in the Benoit home. The WWE also refused to allow one of its most popular stars, Kurt Angle, to continue to wrestle because they feared that he might wind up paralyzed from previous neck injuries.
Don’t miss ESPN’s summer miniseries, “The Bronx Is Burning,” which stars John Turturro as Billy Martin as the 1977 season is re-examined. Unfortunately the 2007 season should be called “George Steinbrenner Is Burning.”
Another must-watch show is HBO’s “The Brooklyn Dodgers” that concentrates on the team’s last 10 years in the borough. It is New York City planner Robert Moses who is portrayed as the villain and not owner Walter O’Malley. The documentary makes it clear that O’Malley wanted to stay in Brooklyn where the Flatbush Long Island Railroad station is located but that Moses refused to let him purchase land near it. O’Malley even brushed off Los Angeles politicos when they first sought him out about moving the team.