This is a question I never wanted to ponder, but the similarities are just all too familiar. Mind you, I’m a life long Raider fan so it pains me to even consider that our proud franchise has slid into a six year rut equivalent to the evolving train wreck that is the New York Knicks.
However, I must admit that there are some very scary signs that indicate our beloved Silver and Black are keeping company with that Orange and Blue disaster on the East Coast. Examine for yourself.
Patrick Ewing and Tim Brown: Mirror Images – Both Brown and Ewing began their professional careers with lofty expectations. Brown was a Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame and Ewing was the first of a long line of big men to come out of Georgetown University. After spending the bulk of their careers with the franchises that drafted them, Brown and Ewing ended their days donning the colors of another team. Both only made it to the championship once (That 1999 finals appearance doesn’t count for Ewing) and both came up short in a very epic way. Ewing is currently an assistant with the Orlando Magic and is attempting to make Dwight Howard everything he never was while Brown was recently begging Al Davis for a front office job. Ewing and Brown had stellar careers but were, in the end, overshadowed by other more successful players in their era that played the same position (Jerry Rice and Hakeem Olajuwon).
The Latrell Spreewell/Bill Romanowski Signings – Desperate times call for desperate measures. Latrell Spreewell became known as the first Mixed Martial Artist in pro sports after he performed a full frontal choke on then Golden State head coach P.J. Carlesimo. After being suspended for the better part of a year, only the desperate New York Knicks were willing to roll the dice on Spree. The gamble appeared to have paid off after the Knicks made an improbable run to the NBA finals as the number 8 seed in the Eastern Conference during the strike shortened season of 1999. They would come up short against the San Antonio Spurs and Spree went on to have a few standout years with the Knicks before things ended badly amid a broken hand controversy that resulted in a $250,000 fine and an eventual trade. The Oakland Raiders made a very similar move when they employed the services of the poster child for Roid Rage, linebacker Bill Romanowski. Romo was a member of 4 Super Bowl champions but he’s best known for committing some of the most despicable acts ever to have occurred in the NFL including kicking Larry Centers in the head, spitting in the face of J.J. Stokes and (as a Raider) ending the career of teammate Marcus Williams by crushing his eye socket with a sucker punch. Romo, like Spree, helped guide the Raiders to the championship only to come up short. In the end, both the Raiders and Knicks crapped out by gambling on two miserable human beings.
Is Michael Mitchell the Renaldo Balkman of the NFL? - You don’t become a woeful franchise by mistake, it takes calculated risks in order to hit rock bottom. There is no bigger risk in all of sports than the draft. Back in 2006, the Knicks used the 20th pick in the NBA draft to select a virtual unknown from South Carolina named Renaldo Balkman. Blakman averaged just 7.4 points and 5.3 rebounds during his college days but that didn’t stop general manger Isiah Thomas from comparing Renaldo to Dennis Rodman and Ron Artest. Today, Balkman is riding the pine for the Denver Nuggets and has started just 11 games in his NBA career averaging a paltry 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds. For the Raiders, they experienced a similar swoon of criticism for selecting Ohio University safety Michael Mitchell in the second round of 2009 NFL draft. Mitchell was also an unknown after finishing up a senior year in which he was not selected to any of the all-conference teams for the MAC, yet five of his teammates were named to either the second or third team. Head coach Tom Cable, in Isiah-like fashion, compared Mitchell to Jack Tatum and Ronnie Lott. Few teams had either Balkman or Mitchell on their radar but both Cable and Thomas insisted that other teams were chomping at the bit to select them. While it seems pretty clear that Balkman will never live up to the high standards set for him, Mitchell has his career in front of him and time will tell if this was a shrewd move or just another brick in the bridge being erected to connect the Raiders to the Knicks.
Javon Walker = Stephon Marbury – Few franchises have managed their money as poorly as the Raiders and Knicks. In 2008, Al Davis committed $250 million to DeAngelo Hall, Javon Walker, Kwame Harris, Gibril Wilson and Tommy Kelly. Hall was cut lose just eight games into a 7-year contract while both Harris and Wilson only lasted one year before being released after the ’08 season. Kelly and Walker are still on the roster but Walker could be the worst free agent singing ever. Mr. Davis handed Javon a deal worth $55 million only to have to talk him out of retirement, watched as he was beaten unconscious and robbed in Las Vegas then caught just 15 passes before needing season ending ankle surgery. During the 2009 off-season, Javon had an operation on his knee without any of the Raider staff aware he even needed surgery. The Knicks have buried themselves in salary cap hell as well by giving out such terrible deals that the NBA now as a contract rule named in honor of one of their horrendous signings “The Alan Houston Rule”. Houston’s career was riddled with injuries but that doesn’t excuse the Knicks from their $30-million deal with Jerome James who promptly showed a 3.1 point and 2.1 rebound return on their investment. The ’08-’09 season saw the Knicks publicly feud with Stephon Marbury. The Knicks were on the hook for upwards of $42 million owed to Stephon but they felt he was no longer necessary to the team. With no other teams willing to take on his contract, Starbury did nothing for the better part of the season while still collecting checks as the Knicks failed miserably time and time again to try and wiggle out of all the cash they had committed to the New York playground legend.
Coaches, Coaches, Coaches - When you’re mired in misery the head coach is always to blame. Al Davis has hired six head coaches over the last 5 years and has tried every approach from the doucheful youth of Lane Kiffin to the out dated experience of Art Shell. The Knicks have also tried a myriad of approaches ranging from the Hall of Fame credentials of Larry Brown to demanding that the ring leader of the New York Circus himself, Isaih Thomas, vacate his general manager position and coach the pitiful roster he assembled. All of the above mentioned moves resulted in more losing seasons. While the Raiders never had to deal with Norv Turner sexually harassing an employee as Thomas did, many Raider fans still wonder how Turner was able to coexist with Michael Irvin but not Randy Moss.
While both teams have become the butt of jokes in their respective sports, the past season did give both franchises a glimmer of hope. The arrival of new coaches Tom Cable and Mike D’Antoni yielded some positive results. Both coaches made it a point to rid their locker rooms of all turmoil as Cable kicked Hall to the curb and D’Antoni gladly paid Marbury to stay away from his team. Perhaps both franchises are finally getting back on track but there is one glaring similarity that cannot be ignored: Nothing will change with either team until the respective front offices get their act together.
Both the Raiders and Knicks are among the most recognizable franchises in all of sports and when things are this bad for this long it is beyond the players on the roster, the coaches on the sidelines and the salesmen in the ticket office. All problems can be traced directly to ownership and management. Are you listening Al Davis and Donnie Walsh? This is your mess to clean up, be glad that Cable and D’Antoni have rolled their sleeves up to get your sorry teams back to a level of respectability only the Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Lions could envy. Now it is your job to get these teams back to competing in the post season. Otherwise, I’m afraid the only piece of solitude we can take as fans is that this is not English Football where both of these franchises would have been relegated to the second division a long time ago. Just ask any Newcastle United fan how that feels. We’ve got it pretty good on this side of the pond but that malaise is the exact reason why we’re forced to cheer for such inferior products.
Topics: Al Davis, Alan Houston, Art Shell, Bill Romanowski, Deangelo Hall, Dennis Rodman, Donnie Walsh, Dwight Howard, Gibril Wilson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Isiah Thomas, J.J. Stokes, Jack Tatum, Javon Walker, Jerome James, Jerry Rice, Kwame Harris, Lane Kiffin, Larry Brown, Larry Centers, Latrell Spreewell, Marcus Williams, Michael Irvin, Michael Mitchell, Mike D'Antoni, Norville Turner, P.J. Carlesimo, Patrick Ewing, Randy Moss, Renaldo Balkman, Ron Artest, Ronnie Lott, Stephon Marbury, Tim Brown, Tom Cable, Tommy Kelly