Thus far in 2017, the New York sports landscape looks rather dispiriting, with the New York Giants and New York Knicks to thank for the relative misery.
When 2017 greeted the greater New York metropolitan area, the pro sports landscape glimmered with a relative confidence.
Within 24 hours of the ball’s drop in Times Square, the New York Giants had officially eliminated the Washington Redskins from playoff contention after a 19-10 win, their eleventh victory of the season, solidifying the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs and an eventual matchup with the victor of that evening’s Green Bay Packers’ matchup with the Detroit Lions, a win promising the NFC North Division and the NFC’s fourth seed.
Despite a crushing 5-11 campaign, the New York Jets saved face after a 30-10 thrashing of the Buffalo Bills, just days after their firing of one-time Gang Green head coach Rex Ryan. The Jets will enter the 2017 with Todd Bowles being given another try at the head coaching position, with his club likely to part ways with Nick Mangold and Darrelle Revis. Given the promise of linebacker Darron Lee — a first round pick in 2016 — the Jets have every reason to be enthralled at the prospect of the sixth pick in this year’s draft, especially if that selection becomes Deshaun Watson, the dynamic Clemson Tiger quarterback and newly minted champion of college football.
Before the start of last holiday season, the Wilpons and the New York Mets did right by their fanbase, re-signing outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who, despite his periodic flare-ups and mishaps, has been a dynamo for the Metropolitans. Heading into spring training, the Mets can tout a healthy rotation, with Zack Wheeler signed off arbitration and one-time aces Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey set to return from injury. Yes, the rotation will be down folk hero Bartolo Colon, but the Mets will return Neil Walker, who signed his qualifying offer with something to prove coming off back surgery, at second base.
The New York Rangers, having parted ways with fan favorite Derrick Brassard last offseason, were aiming to get younger and quicker on the ice, and are currently savoring what the likes of Michael Grabner, Kevin Hayes, Nick Holden, and Jimmy Vesey have accomplished for the Blueshirts, with Mika Nibanejad hoping to sustain his tremendous start when he returns to the ice after recovering from a broken leg he suffered back in November. Not long after the start to the New Year, the Rangers would face off against the Eastern Conference-leading Columbus Blue Jackets, helmed by former coach John Tortorella, winners of fourteen of their last fifteen contests. Despite losing 4-1 in the third period of that January 7 matchup, the Rangers stormed back to win 5-4, with Grabner scoring with seventeen seconds left to play to cement the Blueshirts’ best win of the season.
The New York Yankees, who returned Aroldis Chapman to galvanize the club’s biggest strength heading into last July’s trade deadline, enter spring training with the best farm system in baseball and the game’s number one prospect in shortstop Gleyber Torres, acquired in the trade with the Chicago Cubs that initially sent Chapman to Wrigley. General manager Brian Cashman did not respond to the Boston Red Sox’s gargantuan acquisition of starting ace Chris Sale, choosing instead to keep his minor league system intact, a decision that demonstrated just how far removed the Yankees are from the George Steinbrenner days. With the departures of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, the return of Greg Bird, and the prospect of a full season with Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, the Yankees will be a delight to watch in 2017, with the hopes of signing Bryce Harper, who is at a contractual impasse with the Washington Nationals, in two years.
Even with the New York Knicks barely holding on to the eighth seed (as of January 1) and the Brooklyn Nets, New Jersey Devils, and New York Islanders floundering, 2017 was shaping up to be a year of promise for New York area sports, especially with the Giants providing football postseason action for the first time in New York in five years, with perhaps a Super Bowl run in them yet given the strength of a newly revitalized defensive corps.
Alas, by January 11, 2017, at approximately 9:19 PM, moments after Anthony flailed in an attempt to stop a T.J. McConnell jumper at the Wells Fargo Center, the once-beaming landscape was torn asunder, echoing the vision Billy Joel prophesized in “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)”.
Consequently, we have the New York Knicks, among others, to thank for it. Over the past twenty seasons, the Knicks were 372-0 when holding a ten-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Last night, the Knicks were ashamedly able to add a loss to that ledger with their worst defeat of the season, a 98-97 loss to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, who won on a buzzer-beater from T.J. McConnell, moments after some deft ball movement left Kristaps Porzingis wide-open on the right baseline. Alas, Porzingis, who puzzlingly sat for a long spell before the possession, would shoot an air ball on a three-point attempt, making way for McConnell’s game winner. Going into the fourth quarter, Carmelo Anthony was the team’s leading scorer with 28 points. Anthony would go 0-for-3 in the final frame, missing a three-pointer with 1:03 remaining that would have likely vanquished the Sixers’ comeback hopes.
Melo was sick.. https://t.co/fKu8OFvGYM
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 12, 2017
Earlier in the game, Melo missed two chances under the basket, demanding a call from the refs that never came after the second miss. Never having returned on defense, Philadelphia scored easily in transition, giving the Sixers hope in what was shaping up to be Knicks’ victory. Anthony, looking to compensate for his ejection a few nights before in an embarrassing 110-96 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, illustrated how much of a leader he is not, especially when he refuses to exude a LeBron James-esque effort every night, if at all. And then, there is Derrick Rose.
Derrick Rose finally speaks pic.twitter.com/3T95mF3xqx
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 10, 2017
On the night of that loss to the Pelicans, Rose, who has shown great promise this year, was a no-call, no-show. His absence was the result of his dealing with a family issue that required a return home to meet with his mother, even though Rose did not notify a single organization official of his departure. Despite his desire for a five-year, $150 million max contract in the upcoming offseason, one that no NBA executive in his right mind would extend to the former MVP, Rose reportedly expressed a desire to leave the sport entirely in the midst of his absence.
Joakim Noah simply can't finish at the rim. Painful to watch.
— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) January 12, 2017
Unfortunately, the Knicks also have the Joakim Noah pact to endure. The one-time Defensive Player of the Year, Noah, in the first year of a four-year, $74 million deal that is proving itself an albatross early on, is playing well below the value of his contract, and may very well be the worst starting center — a player shooting thirty percent less than his career average from the free throw line, a virtual zero on the offense — in the league. Porzingis, the lone bright spot on the current New York Knicks roster, is trending upward in pretty much every statistical category, including scoring (19.4 PPG), total rebounds (7.4 RPG), blocks (2.0 BPG), and three-point percentage (.402). Even so, Porzingis missed a spell of games due to a sore Achilles, a worrisome injury for any big man, even in spite of his young age.
And despite his many achievements as a legendary coach in the league, Phil Jackson has offered very little in advocating himself as a top executive in the NBA. Perhaps Phil’s only recourse is to be extremely active at the trade deadline with hopes of landing a high lottery pick in July, with hopes, yet again, pinned on “next year.” Unfair to them or not, the Knicks, now losers of nine of their last ten, could do very little to alleviate the catastrophe that broke out at Lambeau Field on Sunday and at New York Giants’ camp the week before.
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) January 5, 2017
Fresh off their 19-10 win over the Redskins, a victory that was largely the result of another stalwart effort from a defense infused with $105 million in guaranteed money and the rise of Landon Collins, an All-Pro safety worthy of Defensive Player of the Year consideration, the Giants’ receiving corps, lead by the transcendent, polarizing talent that is Odell Beckham, Jr., chartered a flight to celebrate during their off-day on Monday. Rumors of illicit drugs and pills being distributed, including countless pictures and videos of the incident, swirled about the Miami sojourn, although, to Sterling Shepard’s defense, when offered Adderall, he proclaimed he “couldn’t have any.” Then, hours before kickoff on Sunday, the receiving core displayed even sillier antics, walking on the Lambeau turf shirtless, donning only shorts, chronicling the hijinks on Instagram.
And despite the Giants’ defense holding Aaron Rodgers to only seven yards before a Hail Mary try at the close of the second quarter that provided Green Bay a 14-6 lead at halftime, swinging the momentum in the Packers’ favor, New York receivers dropped balls all over the place, including two in the end zone that could have given New York a formidable 17-0 lead as opposed to the 6-0 margin they settled on before Green Bay added to the scoring column on a Rodgers pass to Davante Adams. By game’s end, Beckham would be responsible for three drops, managing only 28 yards on 4 receptions. The performance, his worst since his Week 4 dud against the Minnesota Vikings that inspired him to claim he “was no longer having fun” playing football, resulted in his punching a hole in the wall outside of the visitors’ locker room.
Quarterback Eli Manning, a beacon of professionalism who attended his presser in a suit and tie, remarked, “I could’ve made better throws. I didn’t have to make it so tough on him [Beckham].” Contrarily, Beckham, who spoke to reporters throughout his press conference in a hoodie, refused to blame himself for the Giants’ performance, a team whose withered defense could not stop the Packers in the second half en route to an abysmal 38-13 defeat. He pointed fingers at the media, whom he deemed responsible for creating the week-long distractions that stemmed from the Miami trip, then suggested his “flawless” performance in practice showed no indication of said Miami trip having any hindrance on his ability, despite Sunday’s clunker demonstrating otherwise. While Beckham could not factor in the Wild Card matchup against Green Bay, a lesser number one receiver in Doug Baldwin certainly could against the Detroit Lions, as could Paul Richardson, the Seattle Seahawks’ third option, who pulled off a tremendous one-handed catch that was on Beckham’s level.
As it stands, Beckham’s legacy hinges on that one-handed catch of his own in his rookie season (in a loss to Dallas, no less) and his ongoing saga with the kicking screen that punched back in a demoralizing loss earlier this season to Washington. Nothing more, nothing less. In his three years in the NFL, Odell Beckham, Jr. has only one statistical equal in Randy Moss. Unfortunately, Beckham cares entirely too much about his brand, one that is proliferated ubiquitously via social media and on sports talk radio whenever he chooses to abuse a kicking net or spout off about how much the game no longer “excites” him.
At 24, Beckham is no longer a kid or a rookie, but rather, the face of a franchise that will see Manning depart while Odell enters his prime. In a passing-centric league, Beckham has an opportunity to wreak havoc on the record books, but at present, one would be hard-pressed to choose Beckham over the likes of Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, and Julio Jones as the best receiver in the league.
There will likely never be another Jerry Rice, especially when the egotistical behavior that Beckham elicits is no different from the antics conveyed by Moss, Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens, and Michael Irvin, all of whom proved themselves tougher mentally than Beckham is. Should Beckham fail to heed the cautionary tales of the aforementioned band of prima donna wideouts that dominated the league for two decades, he is likely to get lost in the very white noise and vociferous criticism his behavior creates. For as long as the offensive line remains a problem, and Eli has no reliable tight end to throw to, the New York Giants will find themselves a perennial one-and-done team in the playoffs, no matter how vastly the defense has improved or how special a Beckham/Shepard receiving tandem can ultimately be.
Next season, the Giants will square off against opponents from a vastly improved AFC West, welcome perpetual contenders in the Seattle Seahawks to the Meadowlands, and play a Tampa Bay Buccaneers club that is trending upward on the road. Alas, ten wins — the benchmark for playoff contention — will not come easily. Furthermore, the Dallas Cowboys aim to flourish as the new favorites in the NFC East, all behind an Eagles team looking to build around their quarterback of the future, Carson Wentz, and a Redskins franchise that touts a formidable offense when Kirk Cousins is hitting on all cylinders.
All of this is happening while the Giants must prepare for a future without Eli Manning, whose Herculean persona in the playoffs took a hit in Sunday’s loss to Green Bay despite everything he could to involve Beckham and Shepard. And despite the “feel good” narratives that Victor Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul provided this year, there is no guarantee that either returns to the Meadowlands in 2017.
As New York sports enters the long winter and spring ahead, only the New York Rangers, a club still not tough enough or fit for postseason play, the landscape is due for an upheaval from the likes of the Jets and Knicks, with the Mets a few bats and bullpen arms away from dethroning the Chicago Cubs, the Yankees two seasons away from truly contending, and the Giants dealing with Eli “on the back nine of his career,” as general manager Jerry Reese put it.
While we cannot write the obituary on 2017 anytime soon, this year in New York sports certainly has the makings of a Shakespearean tragedy.