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‘Sell the Team!’ Please, for the Sake of Mets and Knicks Fans

Something about New York sports team owners makes you despair the future of nepotism.

Let’s put to the side the Yankees, the Amazon of American sports teams and a franchise willing to spend any sum to dominate. The Mets, Knicks and Jets — it is my sons’ fate to have been born into this unholy trinity of sports fandom — are not merely mediocre and dysfunctional, they are spectacularly so.

Let’s leave the Jets for another day. This week, sports heirs James Dolan of the Knicks and the Wilpon family, owners of the Mets, have reminded us that even great bags of money cannot paper over bad temperament and cluelessness.

Two months ago, the Wilpons announced that they would sell a controlling interest in the Mets to Steven A. Cohen, a local oligarch of questionable ethics (he had sidestepped at least one indictment on financial misdoings but paid a $1.2 billion fine to the government) and blessedly deep pockets. After months of negotiating the terms, the Wilpons pulled out of that sale even as they reaffirmed a desire to sell the team.

Various anonymous somebodies told reporters that a sticking point was that son Jeff Wilpon wanted to retain some control of the team after the sale, which Cohen had sort of agreed to on the assumption that Jeff’s role would be largely ceremonial.

The Wilpons call to mind that family down the street that talks of selling the old house even as they insist any new owner must let their son retain the master bedroom.

Baseball’s commissioner, Rob Manfred, rallied to the Wilpons’ side Thursday with the alacrity of an old family retainer. “The assertion that the transaction fell apart because of something that the Wilpons did is completely and utterly unfair,” he insisted to reporters.

Manfred has a history here as he helped his predecessor, Bud Selig, engineer the Major League Baseball loans that kept the Wilpons afloat after it emerged that their longtime financial adviser, Bernie Madoff, had filched everything but the family silver. Manfred and Selig waved off any whiff of criticism as the Wilpons cut costs and baseball budgets as if the Mets were a small market team by Flushing Bay.

The worst of those penurious days have perhaps passed. The Mets remain in the spending exurbs compared with the Yankees and the Dodgers but the team’s payroll ranks eighth overall. Poor management, however, remains a clear and present danger.

So the Mets this off-season let a good pitcher, Zack Wheeler, walk in free agency to a top competitor, Philadelphia, and signed a once splendid reliever, Dellin Betances, who is 31 and last year appeared to have begun to break down with shoulder and Achilles injuries. In November they hired a new manager, Carlos Beltran. In January, Beltran was ousted because of his role in the sign-stealing scandal in Houston.

Asked if Beltran had lied about his involvement in that scandal, the Mets general manager, a former agent by the name of Brodie Van Wagenen, insisted that was not the case, as neither he nor Jeff Wilpon had posed that question to Beltran.

This answer fell yards short of reassuring.

Talk of an absence of assurance leads us ineluctably to the doorstep of Dolan, the owner of the fabled New York Knicks, another heir who spends copious sums of money on a team that more or less never wins. (The Knicks have recorded three winning seasons in the last two decades as Dolan hired and fired coaches with delirious abandon, his latest victim departing last autumn.)

Now Dolan appears ready to hire a sports agent, Leon Rose, as his team president, perhaps accompanied by fixer supreme, William Wesley, a.k.a. World Wide Wes, a friend and business associate of various rich and famous basketball players and entertainers. They will be asked to overhaul the most moribund sports organization in the N.B.A. News of this move has garnered acclaim from sportswriters, which surprises me. I don’t doubt that Rose and Wesley are savvy hoops guys. As they’ve spent much of their careers deep in the murk that is college basketball recruiting, they surely know where bodies and perhaps cash are buried.

But they have no experience running a professional team. And there were several well regarded general managers around the league who were rumored to have been interested in the Knicks job had Dolan not indulged his patented panic. A week ago, fans at Madison Square Garden rose as one and quite reasonably chanted “Sell the team!” Soon after, Dolan sacked his team president and longtime aide, Steve Mills.

No tears need be shed here. Mills had for decades hopped from one gilded lily pad to another in the Knicks organization without experiencing much discernible success on the court. A year ago, Mills traded the team’s only bona fide star, Kristaps Porzingis, to the Dallas Mavericks. I wrote at the time that Mills had a feel for failure that was bred in the bone and that Dallas had sent back the equivalent of “potsherds and trinkets.”

One of those potsherds was Dennis Smith Jr., a seldom used point guard who counts it as a victory when his shot hits the rim (he is shooting 33 percent). In Dallas, Porzingis — now recovered from a serious knee injury — has in the last two games scored 70 points and grabbed 24 rebounds. Just this once, I feel comfortable in proclaiming that my oft-cracked crystal ball was in working order.

Then again, betting the Dolan-led Knicks have misstepped is perhaps the only sure thing in sport. Nor should we lay a bet on hope. Dolan issued a statement this week noting that “I’m not selling but I am determined to find the right leader …”

Oh good God. Perhaps Mets and Knicks fans can rise as one and chant once more: “Sell the team.”

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