Are Fans Ready to Fully Embrace This Version of the Red Bulls?

A simple pleasure that Shep Messing and I experience after every Red Bulls’ post game show on MSG Networks is the interaction with the team’s fan base after we say good night to the television audience.

It’s often a brief, pleasant exchange that takes place near our studio set, and a window to my understanding how savvy the soccer fan base is in New York and New Jersey.

Watching Tuesday night’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal victory over FC Cincinnati and its 35,000 fans at Nippert Stadium, a tremendous display of resilience that saw the Red Bulls claw their way back from a 2-0 deficit to advance, I was reminded of a recent conversation with a long-time season ticket holder.

There was envy in his voice as we discussed the galvanization of the game in the United States: Crowds of 50,000 regularly in Atlanta, more than 90 consecutive sellouts in Kansas City, and how soccer stadiums in the Pacific Northwest had become must-see destinations. “If Red Bull Arena is the premier soccer venue in the country,” I asked, “why can’t it be that way here?”

The fan did not hesitate.

“Because when you fire a coach and get rid of a captain that we love, there’s a price to pay for that.” It was an honest answer from someone, who despite the firing of Mike Petke in 2015, and the trade of Dax McCarty to Chicago in January, continues to support the club.

That brings us to the here and now. At what point do you embrace this team for what it is, and not what it used to be? Was Tuesday night’s incredible triumph a tipping point in the often tumultuous, and sometimes disconnected relationship between a team that’s been fun to watch for most of the 89 regular season games it has played under Jesse Marsch, and its fan base?

Reality can’t be distorted, of course. There may never be a player as talented as Thierry Henry to represent the home team at Red Bull Arena, and one of the greatest strikers of his era could not singlehandedly sell out the 25,000-seat venue. With exception of a 2013 Supporters’ Shield triumph, Henry retired with the Red Bulls’ trophy case empty.

Championships define the success or failure of any organization, and at present, that simple fact sticks in the craw of the organization and its fans alike. To the delight of fans in the nation’s capital, where D.C. United has celebrated four MLS Cup titles, and across the Hudson, where New York City FC supporters would relish the chance to win the league despite its neighbors having a nearly two-decade head start in that quest, Red Bulls’ fans have grown weary of the chase.

But has the team failed its fan base? Lately, hardly.

The club is on course to qualify for the playoffs for an eighth consecutive season. It has claimed the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs three times in the past four seasons. It’s 275 points earned at home since 2010 are the most in MLS, with those home victories produced at a venue that is largely the envy of MLS. It has not signed Jozy Altidore or David Villa at a $6 million dollar per year price tag, but secured Bradley Wright-Phillips with a multi-year extension at 15 percent the cost.

Ask a GM or Sporting Director if such a signing is to be admired or ridiculed. For the second consecutive season, the Red Bulls claimed the top score in the J.D. Power Fan Experience Study, which measures fan satisfaction at major sporting events. That’s an accomplishment of which the organization should be proud. Red Bull Academy is considered one of the best associated with MLS. Denis Hamlett will tell you that it’s THE best.

“We’ve had good two-and-a-half years, this club,” said Marsch after Tuesday’s victory which sets up a Sept. 20 showdown with Sporting Kansas City for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title, and an automatic berth in CONCACAF Champions League.

“But ultimately teams and players are judged by championships and that’s something that’s been barren with this club … no one wants to tip their hat to what’s been happening here at Red Bull and the only way to force people’s hands is to win.”

It was a bit of an “us against the world” approach by Marsch during the post game press conference, but the coach likely sensed that only Red Bulls’ supporters were in his corner for the semifinal at Cincinnati. Neutral observers love Cinderella stories, and the USL side gave the tournament one that expired Tuesday night.

The Red Bulls have suffered two defeats in their last 15 competitive games. Tuesday’s victory that saw goals scored in the 75th, 78th and 101st minutes displayed everything you want out of your team: Toughness, poise, clutch moments, an 18-year-old player saving the day by running endlessly to save a potential game-tying goal in the waning moments.

The proverbial ball is now back in the hands of its fan base. This season has seen the rival Villa stamp his reputation as the league’s best player. It’s seen ESPN’s top shelf analyst Taylor Twellman say of the Red Bulls, “they just don’t scare me.” And it’s seen the trading of a player who embodied the fans’ spirit.

Was Tuesday’s victory the longest olive branch the Red Bulls could have extended to its paying customers? Thirty months after the infamous town hall gathering in the winter of 2015, are they ready to embrace this team again?

Posted on

Happy Birthday Sam Rosen!

It’s a power play birthday!

Birthday wishes go out to beloved Hall of Fame broadcaster Sam Rosen. The legendary voice of the New York Rangers, who has been the play-by-play announcer for the Blueshirts on MSG Network since 1984, turned 70 on Saturday.

Posted on

Knicks Forging Athletic & Defensive Identity

So much for an off season.

Since winning their regular-season finale, beating the Philadelphia 76ers 114-113 in the World’s Most Famous Arena, the Knicks have made one dramatic move after another.

And if all the changes and acquisitions haven’t got you thinking about the possibilities of what the 2017-18 season can hold, consider this:

The Knicks open the season Oct. 19 at Oklahoma City. Which means first-round draft pick Frank Ntilikina, in his NBA debut, could face reigning MVP Russell Westbrook.

Talk about Thunder.

In the meantime, the Knicks have been lightning.

Most recently, they signed scoring small forward Michael Beasley, the second player taken in the 2008 NBA Draft. Too old to fit the Knicks blueprint of getting younger and more athletic?

Beasley is just 28. He’s one of 11 Knicks on the 15-man roster under the age of 30. In his one season at Kansas State, Beasley broke Carmelo Anthony’s freshman record of 22 double-doubles by posting 28.

The 2017-18 roster still will have some familiar faces – with Kristaps Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez, and Joakim Noah – but the stye of play will be drastically different.

“We’re going to emphasize pride, work ethic, accountability,’’ Steve Mills, the newly appointed team President said at an introductory press conference in which Scott Perry was introduced as GM. He added, “and particularly those kinds of things because those are what we believe New York fans expect from the New York Knicks.

“We’re going to emphasize youth, athleticism, teamwork and defense. We’re committed to rebuilding a team and building a team around the young core of players that we have.”

Since that press conference on July 17, that young core has increased in size and versatility.

Ntilikina, 19, has tremendous upside because of his 6-foot-5 size and seven-foot wingspan.

Second round pick Damyean Dotson, 23, was so impressive at the Orlando Summer League that the Knicks signed him to a two-year deal. He knocked down 13-of-25 from three-point range.

Dotson’s coach at Houston, Kelvin Sampson, said the Knicks rookie is a better shooter than Courtney Lee, although Lee is a better all around player. Sampson had also coached Lee when he was an assistant with the Rockets.

Ron Baker, 24, whose relentless style made him a rookie favorite, also signed a two-year deal. Baker reminds Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek of himself; a scrappy, tenacious player with a great feel for the game.

“One thing I’ve been trying improve on is my jump shot,’’ Baker told Al Trautwig on Knicks Night Live. “I think on the defensive end I bring a lot of energy and create some havoc so hopefully this year I can shoot the ball with a little better technique and make some more open shots.’’

Luke Kornet, 22, showed remarkable three-point shooting for a 7-foot-1 center. He signed a two-way deal, which will allow the Knicks to develop him.

His coach at Vanderbilt, Bryce Drew, said Kornet could have put up more impressive stats as a senior, but Kornet is a team-first player and the Commodores ran their offense through the big man to spread the court and create mismatches.

“I’ve been doing a lot of work in the weight room,’’ Kornet told MSGNetworks.com. “I know I can help the Knicks. I want to be in the best shape of my life when training camp starts. That means getting stronger and working on every aspect of my game.’’

Tim Hardaway Jr., 25, signed a four-year, $71 million free agent deal to return to New York. The Knicks took him with the 24th pick in the 2013 draft. He’s a more mature and polished player on the verge of emerging as an elite swing man.

Hardaway could be heavily featured in New York’s offense, and he believes he’s ready.

[Robbins’ Nest: Hardaway Ready To Lead In Second Stint With Knicks]

“I know how much work I’ve put in — obviously there’s pressure, but you got to embrace it and take it to heart,” Hardaway said. “We have a young corps. I know we’re hungry. We got to play off one another and do everything we can to make it special.”

The Knicks now have an athletic group of swing players in the 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-9 range. They can make the squad more versatile on offense while being more athletic on defense.

Beasley (6-foot-9), Dotson (6-foot-5), Hardaway Jr. (6-foot-6), Mindaugas Kuzminskas (6-foot-9), Lee (6-foot-5), Ntilikina (6-foot-5), and Lance Thomas (6-foot-8) give Hornacek a lot of options on both ends of the court.

Hornacek made it clear at the Mills/Perry press conference that this year’s team will have a defensive identity. Thomas is the best defender of the group, but Hornacek is expecting every player to step up and for the Knicks to embrace a nasty disposition.

“I think one of the key things is everybody plays hard,’’ Hornacek said. “Our guys played hard last year. We want to take that level to a higher level of playing hard, what that really means.

“Through practices, through the competition, not at games, but before and after practice with guys playing one on one. We’re going to put them in situations where they are really competing. I think we all look at our young guys and say that’s what we want to see.’’

[More From Robbins’ Nest]

Mills and Perry have seemingly been everywhere and talking to everyone at once. As Mills was recently spotted watching some Team Dyckman games at NYC’s Nike Pro City, while Perry is the point man on the Carmelo Anthony discussions.

Meanwhile, Perry has filled out the staff with some really impressive basketball minds.

He named Gerald Maddens Assistant General Manager, Harris Ellis Director of Player Personnel, Craig Robinson, the brother-in-law of former President Barack Obama, Vice President of Player Development and G-League operations, Michael Arciero Director of Player Strategy and Fred Cofield as Scout.

“Last month, the day after I was hired, I started a full evaluation of the entire basketball operations staff,” Perry said in a statement. “My first goal was to build-up the highest level front office in the NBA. We are adding a host of highly-regarded and respected basketball people to work with the Knicks to fortify the franchise for years to come.”

Posted on

Red Bulls Pass on Dwyer, But Moves May Lie Ahead

The biggest trade in MLS history ended up being to be too much of a price to pay for the New York Red Bulls.

The team considered adding striker Dom Dwyer, but found the asking price to be well outside their evaluation of the All-Star forward.

A couple weeks ago, Dwyer was traded from Sporting Kansas City to Orlando City in a move that generated quite a bit of buzz. That Orlando went on to pay what potentially could be $1.6 million in allocation money for the United States international is the real sticking point of the deal.

It is far and away the most allocation money ever dealt in the history of MLS and it’s a move that sends shockwaves throughout the league. It also had an earthquake-like effect around the league on player evaluations.

According to head coach Jesse Marsch, the Red Bulls talked about pursuing Dwyer, a player who would have joined up with Bradley Wright-Phillips and created a formidable strikeforce. But while the Red Bulls were loaded with allocation money at that time, they didn’t consider the asking price for Dwyer to be within their range for one player.

Keep in mind that this past offseason, the Red Bulls traded their captain Dax McCarty to the Chicago Fire for $400,000 in allocation money. It was a deal that, at the time, was among the most expensive ever between two MLS teams.

McCarty was an MLS All-Star this year, meaning that the Dwyer deal really skews the metrics.

[Dyer: Are Red Bulls Missing McCarty?]

“We had heard that Dwyer was potentially moving on, whether internationally or in the league. We visited the possibility of what it would be like to have him and then the numbers started being reported – it seemed like a lot,” Marsch said.

“The numbers are very, very surprising. Obviously, the money being tossed around in this league right now has grown immensely. It makes it a little bit harder to figure out what player’s values are within the league.

“For example, $400,000 for Dax seven months ago seemed like a lot of money and now obviously, it seems like a lot less. That makes it scary to even think about, six months from now what the numbers might look like, especially knowing that more TAM (team allocation money) is being injected and the salary cap is expected to grow.”

Jesse Marsch scouts the Red Bulls next opponent, Orlando City SC, and talks about the improvement of midfielder Sean Davis.

Wednesday saw the close of the summer transfer window for the New York Red Bulls. Despite not making any moves at the deadline, they might not be done making additions to their squad.

The bulk of the Red Bulls’ moves came earlier in the summer transfer window, signing Panamanian international Fidel Escobar and Norwegian winger Muhamed Keita. Neither player has featured for the Red Bulls as Escobar continues to work in with the team and Keita is hurt, not expected to begin training until next week.

[Dyer: Red Bulls Reload With Escobar]

Despite the end of the transfer window, the Red Bulls can still sign players. While they can’t bring in any player involving a transfer, a loan or a trade, the roster freeze date isn’t for a few more weeks. This means that they can add a free agent or a player internally.

“There’s still a window open in terms of free agents. We’ll have a couple more additions here soon. Nothing to announce by the deadline,” Marsch said. “Nothing that we felt was attractive enough to make a move on.”

Trialist Dilly Duka, the former Red Bulls Academy prospect, was signed late Wednesday afternoon.

“Dilly is a veteran player, and our staff is very familiar with him,” said Red Bulls Sporting Director Denis Hamlett in a press release. “We’ve been able to have him in training for a few weeks and we’ve liked what he has shown. He brings attacking quality and experience to our roster, and we expect him to contribute moving forward.”

Another player to keep an eye on for a potential move to the MLS side is Vincent Bezecourt.

Now in his second year with the USL side, Bezecourt continues to impress with the New York Red Bulls II and has been among the best players in the league.

Posted on

This Ex-Knick Gets What Lies Ahead for Ntilikina

No point guard in New York Knicks history understands the challenges of playing the position as a rookie like Mark Jackson.

Walt Frazier, of course, led the Knicks to their two NBA titles but he did so in an era when the media wasn’t nearly as omnipresent as it was when Jackson played. And Frazier was spared the added pressure of being a native New Yorker playing in his hometown.

Jackson, a Brooklynite who stared at Bishop Loughlin and St. John’s, was drafted by the Knicks with the 18th pick in 1987, behind point guards Kenny Smith, Kevin Johnson and Muggsy Bogues.

[Robbins: Best Knicks Draft Picks of All-Time]

Jackson stunned the NBA world by winning Rookie of the Year honors.

Can Frank Ntilikina follow Jackson’s lead?

“I think it’s really exciting to have challenges right at the beginning of your career, like it’s really exciting,’’ Ntilikina said. “I mean, I’m ready for whatever will happen.’’

The Knicks took Ntilikina with the 8th pick in this year’s draft, after point guards Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and De’Aaron Fox. Yet Ntilikina speaks with a confidence Jackson says is the key to succeeding as an NBA rookie point guard.

“Confidence is the most important thing for any player, but especially a point guard because you’re running the show and there are a lot of eyes on you,’’ Jackson told MSGNetworks.com.

“You can be the best player in the world in college or overseas, but the NBA is a different game. You’re going to face adversity and you’re going to face it early.

“The easy thing is to put your head down, but that doesn’t get you anywhere. You’re going to have a bad possession, a bad quarter, bad back-to-back games. You have to have confidence in yourself and know you’re going to bounce back.’’

Ntilikina has faced his share of adversity playing for SIG Strasbourg in the French League. Ntilikina, who just recently turned 19, often was up against older players that were physically more mature and had more experience.

[Robbins: Ntilikina No Stranger to Pressure]

Ntilikina never backed down. According to a New York Times story, it was in one practice last season that Ntilikina’s teammates saw the drive and confidence the 6-foot-5, 190-pound point guard possesses.

After missing a layup, he dropped and pumped out five push ups while unleashing a loud, lengthy scream. Ntilikina was a monster the rest of practice. He was the confident boy among men.

“It helps a lot because over there you play against grown men, you play against adults,” Ntilikina said. “Some of them played in the NBA and have a lot of experience. You can ask a lot of questions to your teammates and you can learn from them.

“I think it’s great and it can help me make the transition easier on the court and even off the court.”

Ntilikina is not expected to be the starter when the Knicks begin the season. Veteran Ramon Sessions and second-year guard Ron Baker have the experience edge.

But Jackson wasn’t expected to be the starter when he was a rookie. The Knicks had Rory Sparrow and Gerald Henderson.

“I remember sitting and watching them in training camp and thinking, ‘I can do this,’’’ said Jackson. “The first time I put on a uniform, I believed I could play in the league.’’

Jackson also had two advantages. In Rick Pitino, he had a coach that understood the point guard position because he was one. And the Knicks had one of the greatest centers in NBA history in Patrick Ewing.

Pitino’s belief in Jackson helped negate questions fans and the media had about a rookie starting at point guard. Ewing’s presence took a lot of pressure off Jackson.

“Those two allowed me to fulfill a lifelong dream,’’ Jackson said. “They believed in me and that belief allowed me to make mistakes, and I made my share of them, and continue to grow as a player and a man. Without them, I don’t have a 17-year NBA career.

“The Knicks are going to have to show they have confidence in the young man. They drafted him. They have to give him a chance to show what he can do and develop.’’

The signing of Sessions should help Ntilikina. As I recently wrote, Sessions’ college coach at Nevada, Mark Fox, said the veteran point guard is generous with advice and doesn’t get caught up in the minutes game.

Jackson also endorsed Sessions as a mentor.

“I know him as a player and I will tell you this, everyone that has played with Ramon Sessions will tell you he’s a pro, a consummate pro,’’ Jackson said. “You know what you’re going to get from him on a consistent basis. That’s the first step in developing a successful team.’’

Which is exactly where the Knicks are right now. Under new president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry, the focus is on young, athletic talent and effort on the defensive end.

[Robbins: New-Look Knicks Brass Lays Out Shift in Team’s Vision]

Ntilikina fits in that blueprint. The scouting report on the 19-year-old highlights his athleticism – he has a 7-foot wing span, his pass first mentality on offense and his commitment to defense.

As for the confidence that Jackson mentioned, Ntilikina seemed unfazed on draft night when he did more than two hours of interviews.

He was resplendent in a three-piece maroon suit with matching bowtie, an outfit he began designing with a tailor in France months before the draft. He was ready for the moment.

Ntilikina looked, and sounded, like a confident young man.

“I think I would do good,” Ntilikina said when asked how he thought he’d perform this season. “I would bring a lot of things to my team obviously.

“I would do the maximum to give the best thing to my team. Maybe I’m more experienced from what I did back in France.’’

Ntilikina won’t have some of the safety nets that Jackson did. But he is surrounded by some quality young talent. And the international flavor of the Knicks should help Ntilikina.

“What I will bring to the Knicks, actually a lot of hope,’’ Ntilikina said. “I think I’m a player who will trust the process, work hard, and definitely try to be the best player I can be, who will give energy.

“I think I’m a team point guard and shooting guard actually. I’ll just try to make my teammates better every day.’’

Posted on

Ex-MetroStar Aims to Resurface with Red Bulls

Rodrigo Faria’s light shone quickly, but brilliantly, in MLS.

The former MetroStars forward was one of the most intriguing talents to ever land in the league, then seemingly vanished. He hopes to make an impact in MLS again, writing perhaps a longer chapter this time around.

Faria was a 2001 college draft selection of the then-MetroStars, the precursor to the club known today as the New York Red Bulls. He was also the MLS Rookie of the Year, a shock given that few knew of him before the draft since he barely even played collegiate soccer.

He would score 20 goals over the course of two seasons in New York before being traded to the Chicago Fire in a deal that sent head coach Bob Bradley to the MetroStars. Faria would be out of MLS by the very next season, heading back to his native Brazil following the death of his father. He overtook the family’s business and never played soccer again.

Faria would keep himself involved in the game however, coaching children in Brazil and for a brief time, trained with some club teams. But he never, ever, played professionally again, despite his scintillating form in MLS.

Now, Rodrigo would like to get back involved within MLS.

“I want to get into soccer again. Academy here? Of course, New York is my goal, this is my place. It’s the place I want to be. I never understood the trade. If I got the opportunity here – I’d do anything. I already got my ‘F License’ – it’s the only one I can do online,” Faria told MSGNetwork.com.

“I can study here. I’m going to do everything to get every single license from ‘F’ to the ‘A’ so I can be a real coach. Maybe even an MLS coach because I know the game.”

Faria was at Red Bulls training on Friday, invited by equipment manager Fernando Ruiz to take in the session. Ruiz keeps in contact with Faria and a number of former players, mentioning that the team would like to have him stop in for the session.

The connections go beyond just his affiliation with the old MetroStars.

Head coach Jesse Marsch played with Faria when they were teammates on the Fire in 2003. In addition, assistant coach Chris Armas was a vital part of that team as well.

Marsch teased that Faria, now 40-years old is still lean and trim, looking as if he can play a few minutes for the team still. That won’t happen but his heart, the Brazilian striker said, is very much in joining this team again.

“Hopefully I can make it because I want to be here again, that’s my goal. That’s the most important thing for me right now,” Faria said.

[Listen: Red Bulls Goalkeeper Coach Preston Burpo on The Red Bulls Insider Podcast]

“I never played back [in Brazil] because there was a fee if I went back there [for his rights].

“I didn’t break my contract. I just retired. As I retired, I couldn’t play for the [next] two years. I practiced with the Flamengo team, the Vasco team for two years – just practice. Then I started to run the family business.”

Faria will attend the Red Bulls derby match this Sunday at New York City F.C.

Posted on

KP Boxing His Way Through the Offseason

Kristaps Porzingis has been hitting the heavy bag. And the speed bag. And sparring. And working on his footwork. And lifting weights.

No, the Knicks’ 7-foot-3 stretch forward isn’t eyeing a megabucks fight against the Floyd Mayweather-Connor McGregor winner. His focus is to take that big step toward stardom that many of the best players in the NBA have taken in their third year in the league.

 

This is exactly what Porzingis said he intended to do at the end of last season, in which he missed 16 games with inflammation in his Achilles tendon and an illness.

He still averaged 18.1 points on 45-percent shooting and 7.2 rebounds. Porzingis added 129 blocked shots and 97 assists. He was 112-of-314 on 3s (35.7 percent), showing why he’s one of the unique young talents in the NBA.

But at 7-foot-3, 240 pounds, Porzingis knew by the end of last season that he had to add muscle and improve his overall conditioning. Setting up camp in Latvia, he’s turned to boxing, a sport many pro athletes use to supplement their offseason conditioning and development.

“Boxing is great for basketball,’’ Jose Guzman, a trainer at Mendez Boxing in Manhattan and a former professional boxer told MSGNetworks.com. “Boxing is about footwork and balance. So is basketball.

“If your footwork is wrong, everything is wrong because that’s where your balance and power come from. We have a lot of pro athletes come in during the offseason and work on that.’’

Porzingis has been sparring with Mairis Briedis, the first Latvian boxer to win a world title, the WBC cruiserweight crown, which he claimed in April.


“I’ll try not to hurt him,’’ Porzingis quipped in late April at a press conference in Latvia.

Porzingis wasn’t joking before the Knicks’ final game of the season when he labeled this ‘a huge summer’ to physically develop.

“I’ll be doing a little bit of something I haven’t done before that’s not attached to basketball,’’ Porzingis said. “Maybe that will help my game. I’ll experiment a bit over the summer.”

The summer has been a time of strengthening and healing for Porzingis. Unhappy with what he perceived to be the team’s direction, Porzingis made a youthful error by failing to attend to his exit interview.

The team’s change in the front office, with Steve Mills’ promotion to president and the hiring of Scott Perry as GM, has reaffirmed KP’s desire to remain in New York.

“For me, it’s now home,’’ he said.

KP has been keeping tabs on the young talent the Knicks have added. He’s heard great things about 1st-round draft choice Frank Ntilikina and knows free agent signee Tim Hardaway Jr. could be on the cusp of greatness.

“Look, I was so happy when I got drafted by New York,” KP said in a recent interview with NBA.com. “I was never worried about the big stage or anything like that. I’ve always enjoyed that.

“I can envision [a championship someday] and see it. But we’re still a long way from there. As we get better, if we can all see that goal at the end and work towards it, anything can happen.”

With that outlook and a body that is primed for the season, anything is possible for Porzingis. It starts with staying on the court and remaining strong throughout an 82-game season.

Guzman, a huge Knicks fan from the Bronx, said the biggest benefit of boxing training is building up the body’s ability to recover from wear and tear and injury.

“Boxing is about giving out punishment and taking punishment without getting injured,’’ said Guzman. “You train your body to be able to take punishment and recovery from it quickly.

“That’s why a boxer can go 12 rounds, take punishment and come back in six or nine months and fight again. The training helps you avoid injury and recover more quickly.’’

He’s added muscle and not just weight to his frame. Porzingis finally had a chance to work out with his idol, Dirk Nowitzki. And he’s worked out with teammate Mindaugas Kuzminskas.

Porzingis and teammate Courtney Lee are expected to play for Team World in the NBA Africa Game on Aug. 5 in Johannesburg. KP then will play for the Latvian National Team in the FIBA EuroBasket tournament. Latvia’s first game is Sept. 1 against Serbia in Turkey.

Porzingis did not play FIBA the last two seasons, but just as he added boxing and more weight lifting, Kristaps is hoping that a new approach will help him excel this coming season.

Posted on

de Haan’s Return a Happy Happening

When I was dispatched to Montreal for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, I had only one — and only one — name on my mind.

Driving up the Thruway, then the Northway and into Canada with New York Times Islanders beat man, Allan Kreda, we spent several hours in debate.

After all, there were several excellent possibilities available as top picks including John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene and, yes, even Evander Kane.

But, no matter how much Kreda and The Maven moved the Hockey Scrabble names around in our heads, the choice that always — and I do mean always — emerged was Tavares.

And so it was my distinct pleasure to host the eventual Captain John in the MSG Networks studio after his selection for his thoughts about being an Islander plus other puck points on his mind.

Then came a surprise.

Not long after Tavares exited stage left another draftee walked in stage right and stunned me to the very core.

He was very tall, very handsome and a total unknown to me; and that lad was the Islanders 12th overall pick in the first round.

Everything about Calvin de Haan impressed me, from his demeanor to his eloquence — yeah just about all points including his few about his future in the NHL which seemed bright whenever that would happen to be.

Alas, it didn’t happen right away.

Matter of fact there were those of us in the media crowd who began wondering whether it ever would happen.

A spate of injuries, the long roads along minor league busways and questions about his relevance in The Show surrounded the native of Carp, Ontario.

Now that Calvin has signed a new $3.3 million, one-year contract with the Islanders the issues seem so long, long ago.

[More From The Maven’s Ravin]

Avoiding arbitration, de Haan now is part of coach Doug Weight‘s foundation including Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy and Adam Pelech.

At age 26 de Haan is in position to mature into a long-term leader on the blue line and the reason is rooted into his maturation during the 2016-17 season.

Granted that Cal still is not in the Norris Trophy competition but his ability to alternate between savvy defense and energetic puck-carrying has reached a new level of competence with the hope of improvement very likely to be realized.

Some Islanders-watchers rated de Haan — 6-1, 197 pounds — the team’s best defenseman last season. He set a career high in goals and assists.

No less relevant, Calvin continued to be one of the NHL’s premier shot-blockers — 190 through 82 games; also a testimant to his durability.

Furthermore, he was the second best offensive blueliner behind Leddy.

As for the one-year portion of the deal, it enables management to discern whether de Haan’s performance is capable of enhancement in the year ahead.

On the other hand, Cal will be motivated even more in the hopes of landing a bigger deal ahead. His career Plus-15 rating is nothing to be sneezed at and figures to improve next semester.

From my view, it will be interesting to see how de Haan fits in with the less-experienced Ryan Pulock or Pelech. Maybe even Scott Mayfield.

It’s clear that de Haan now steps into the role vacated by Travis Hamonic.

[Fischler: Hamonic Trade a Win-Win For Both Sides]

One of my favorite Isles-watchers, Rob Taub, opines that the expectations figure to place Cal as the number three defender, with a bigger role on the second power play and penalty-kill.

As a young vet, he also can offer guidance to the younger backliners such as Pulock, Pelech and Mayfield.

Looking backward to my interview with de Haan — following the more highly-touted Tavares — I figure that Cal’s evolution has gained the kind of traction that I had hoped it would that afternoon in Montreal.

Posted on