The only one who looks bad in the current Melo-drama is The Zen Master.

The only one who looks bad in the current Melo-drama is The Zen Master.

I have been intending to write about the Knicks trade activity around Carmelo Anthony for a while - but after watching yesterday's 4 overtime game I felt compelled to follow through.

Yes - Melo can be exasperating. The ball does tend to stop when it gets to him. And he is not a top notch defender. But really, will the Knicks be better off without him? Let's examine the case against him.

1. Melo is a ball stopper.

Well, yes, kind of. But in all fairness to him, if you watched the game yesterday you saw that the current incarnation of Iso-Melo is a team thing. It seems that every play in 4th quarter crunch time and in the overtimes (before he fouled out) were designed isolation plays. Here is how each play unfolded:

  • The guard dribbled just long enough for Melo to get free to receive the ball.
  • Once Melo got the ball, everyone else on the team stopped moving and watched.

Is this Melo's fault? I don't think so. Does he relish the opportunity to be the hero? Absolutely. But it is hard to tell if this is what the Coach called, or if the other players just concede the offense to Melo. But if you are going to throw him the ball, with the shot clock running down and the stand around and watch him then you can't kill him for taking the shot.

It was only last year that Melo averaged over 4 assists per game. He has shown that he can move the ball within an offensive system where players are working to get open for a shot. I don't recognize any effort on this year's team to do that (except when the 2nd unit is in). Is this by the Coach's design, or are the players just freelancing? I can't tell, but it is an ugly offensive system and it does not look to be Melo's fault (entirely).

2. It is time to make Porzingis the centerpiece and build around him.

Really? KP will one day be a stud - but he is not there yet. And even he says that he benefits from playing with Melo and watching how he shoulder's the load.

Without Melo it would be so much more difficult [for me] to get 30 points, or whatever. People don’t realize that. He draws a lot of attention. He’s the main focus for the other team. That opens stuff for me. Without him it would be much more difficult.
— Kristaps Poringis

3. Melo is not a leader. He has not won any championships.

Carmelo has been a standup guy throughout this ordeal. He clearly and truly wants to be in NY. He has not cut-and-run when the going gets tough. He shows up everyday, plays hard and makes himself available to the media.

As for the championship knock on him, the guys he gets compared to in his draft class are LeBron and Dwayne Wade. Let's see:

  • LeBron. 2 Championships with Wade and Chris Bosh. 1 Championship with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
  • Wade. 1 Championship with Shaq. 2 Championships with LeBron and Bosh.

Melo has never played with talent like that around him. Really, how far was he going to go with JR Smith and Raymond Felton.

What this Melo-drama really points to is that Phil Jackson is a mess as President of the Knicks.

 It pains me to say this, because I had such high hopes for him in this role. But he has blown the roster up twice already - and all indications are he is about to do it again. That is not a plan - that is throw shit against the wall and hope it sticks. 

  • He hired a rookie head coach who hadn't even organized a practice yet.
  • He gave away assets like Tyson Chandler and JR Smith and got very little in return.
  • He signed Melo to a long term max contract with a no-trade clause.
  • He refused to talk to established coaches like Thibs - who was available - when searching for a coaching replacement.
  • He signed Noah to a long term contract when no one else was even bidding on him.
  • Now, the rumor has it, he is looking to trade Melo - a top 10 player and a hall of famer - for, essentially, Austin Rivers.

Jackson could have easily rid himself of Melo 3 years ago when his contract was up for negotiation and gone through a true rebuild process. But no - he caved (or Dolan caved) and tied the ship to Melo. Not sure what the thinking was there - but it looks like he is regretting it now.

So...what to do now?

1. Personally, I think I would stick with Melo. He is not perfect - but he is yours. He provides air cover for Porzingis to mature into the star we all think he will be. And if Melo is your 2nd best player you probably have a decent team.

2. I would trade Derrick Rose and look to get back more young assets (or draft choices). Rose is tradeable. He has proven himself healthy. He is putting up decent numbers. He is on an expiring contract. There is value there.

3. Steady the ship. There are some good young players on this team. Porzingis, Holliday, Hernangomez, Kuzmingus are all players. Letting them learn the game with some veterans like Melo, Lee and Noah is a good thing.

This seems like the Zen-thing to do. Your move, Phil.

Tales From The Patient-Centered Health Care Front. It's Not Pretty

Tales From The Patient-Centered Health Care Front. It's Not Pretty

The Republicans, emboldened by the Trump Presidency, have trotted out the idea that a Patient-Centered approach to health care will drive down costs.

In essence, the plan attempts to lower health care costs by making people shoulder a greater share of those costs—or “sensitizing” consumers to the actual cost of health care, as Senate aides put it in a meeting with reporters on Monday.

Most people don’t recognize how much their employer contributes to their health care plan and don’t see the costs the insurance company covers: If people are spending more of their own money, many conservatives argue, they’ll be smarter consumers. Overall costs will come down, the argument goes, if consumers have more “skin in the game.”
— National Journal

This is not as easy as it sounds, as the following tale of woe will attest. 

My wife was scheduled for a regular mammogram. We have good health insurance, from one of the major national carriers, and this important preventive service is part of our coverage. At her doctor visit, it was suggested to her by the doctor that she request the 3D mammogram rather than the traditional 2D because the 3D provides a much clearer image and this makes the diagnosis much more accurate.

Because she is aware of the Patient-Centered proposal my wife thought it would be a good test. She would find out the cost vs the coverage and make an informed decision.

Wife: "How much extra will the 3D imaging cost?"

Doctor: "The difference is $73 to you and the rest will be picked up by your insurance."

Wife: "So my insurance will cover it?"

Doctor: "Not necessarily. Some carriers cover it, some don't. You should check with your insurance carrier."

OK. So far so good. She then called our insurance provider.

Wife: "My doctor suggested that I get a 3D mammogram and I would like to know if this is covered."

Insurance: "I don't know. Do you have the code for this service?"

Wife: "No. They did not give me a code. They just said 'Ask for the 3D mammogram'"

Insurance: "I can't tell you if it is covered without a code."

Wife: "You can't look up 3D mammogram and tell me if it is covered?"

Insurance: "No."

While frustrated, my wife was not deterred. She placed a call to the doctor's office to get the code.

Wife: "My insurance company needs the code for the 3D mammogram so they can tell me if it is covered. Would you give me the code, please?"

Doctor's office: "I don't know the code."

Wife: "Can you look it up?"

Doctor's office: "No."

Wife: "Well, that is odd. Can you tell me if my insurance carrier covers this service?"

Doctor's office: "Some do, and some don't"

Wife: "Well, if I go through with the service, and the carrier does not cover it am I only out the $73?"

Doctor's office: "No. If the insurance does not cover it then you are responsible for the additional charge for the service."

OK. Decision made. She opted for the basic 2D mammogram, even though her doctor recommended the 3D scan, because no one could tell her what her costs would be.

Houston, we have a problem.

It is extremely hard for patient's to get information from a system that is designed for doctor-insurance communication. Apparently, you can order a service by just requesting "3D mammogram" from the lab, but you can not find out how much it costs, or if it is covered unless you have "the code".

In other words - it is easy to spend money on services by speaking common English, but you can not manage costs unless you speak Code.

Aaron Rodgers is playing a different game than the rest of the league.

Aaron Rodgers is playing a different game than the rest of the league.

Aaron Rodgers had a jaw-dropping performance on Sunday. After being nearly invisible for most of the first have he engineered two scoring drives to end the half, and never looked back.

The play that most people are buzzing about is the Hail Mary pass to end the half. And yes, that is awesome, but there is a large element of luck involved in that play. The play that got my head spinning was the touchdown pass to Adams in the previous series.

Just take a look at this play and tell me any other QB who makes this happen.

The QB position is unique in sports. They handle the ball on every play. And on pass plays, once the ball is snapped there is 3 seconds of total chaos in the midst of which the QB is supposed to check multiple options, pick the correct one, and deliver a pass on target. It is an amazing combination of physical dexterity and mental focus.

In this play, Rodgers dances around in the pocket for what seems like 30 seconds. Most QBs have a clock in their head which tells them when to bail on a play (which means either tucking the ball and running for whatever you can get, or more likely just throwing the ball away). Rodgers moves around deftly inside the swirling chaos of the play, but never strays far from the pocket and never loses his focus on finding a receiver.

And, if the avoidance of a sack were not enough, when Rodgers decides he has a target in Davante Adams he throws the ball into a window-of-success smaller than a bread box. I mean, who makes that throw. Even in the pristine atmosphere of a practice session that throw is not completed. When put in the context of the mad-scrambling, play-extending, dance that preceded the throw it is mind-boggling.

The Packers have no running game (the QB is the second leading rusher for the season) and they lost their #1 receiver to injury early in the game. But they smoked a really good defensive team in the Giants. No one but Aaron Rodgers gets this done.

Independent Retailer Hell: When Your Vendors Compete With You

Independent Retailer Hell: When Your Vendors Compete With You

The life of an small independent retailer has it's obvious challenges. Big box stores. Amazon.com. Brand recognition. The list is long. Even in the face of all that it can be a rewarding experience. I, personally, enjoy the 3 dimensional puzzle aspect of trying to optimize the business.

But one thing that I have a hard time accepting is when my vendors - the manufacturers - directly compete with me. As an example, one of my long time vendors - who will remain nameless (but their initials are Le Creuset) recently opened a brick and mortar store in an outlet mall near our store. 

Let that sink in for a moment.

The vendor, whose inside salesman recently called me to solicit an order, has a brand new physical location 15 minutes from our little store. They are now a direct competitor. And it gets better:

They are advertising deep discounts!

What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to react to this?

The process of picking which items to stock, and how much, is called Assortment Planning. It is analogous to picking stocks with your IRA: You have a certain amount of money to invest and you want to maximize your return on that investment. I am currently in the process of Assortment Planning for this coming year - and I am wondering aloud if this vendor is going to make the cut.

On the one hand, this is a popular brand - and I am a competitive SOB. Maybe I can figure out a way to beat them at this game.

One the other hand, swimming upstream is so tiring. There are other product options for their category. Some are better quality. Many are less expensive.

Mostly, I am pissed off.

I am not sure, yet, what I will do about this. But I am heading down to Atlanta for a big trade show and the inside sales guy has requested a meeting. You can be sure that I will bring this issue up when we do meet. I want him to explain to me why I should continue to find a place for his products in my Assortment Plan.

How long has it been since Melo was Clutch?

How long has it been since Melo was Clutch?

Gut-wrenching loss last night to the bucks. This was a game they lost in the last few minutes after being up by 14 in the second half. When it came down to crunch time the Bucks - particularly Antetokounmpo - made shots while the Knicks - I'm looking at you, Melo - did not.

Anthony was smooth, finishing with nearly a triple-double (30 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists), but he missed his last three shots late — any of which could have been the dagger.
— Marc Berman, NY Post

Yes, Melo had a good game, statistically. And we probably put too much emphasis on the last few minutes of a close game which diminishes all that came before it. But...still...when the game is on the line...when a single shot makes the difference between winning and losing...AND YOU MAKE IT...this is what we call Clutch.

It feels to me, as a regular Knick game viewer, that Melo misses a lot of shots at the end of the game. I wondered if this was anecdotal, or if there are statistics that can point me one way or the other. So I went to the Basketball Reference Shot Finder to see if I could find out. Pretty Geeky thing to do, I know, but it showed some interesting data:

First - here are the Crunch Time stats for Melo as a Knick this season, and the previous 2 seasons. For this review I have defined Crunch Time as the final 2 minutes of the 4th quarter or OT, with the teams within 5 points of each other. In other words, time is running out and every shot counts.

2016-17 (this season)

Query Results Table
Rk Player Season Tm G FG FGA FG% FGX 3P 3PA 3P% 3PX eFG% Ast'd %Ast'd
1Carmelo Anthony2016-17NYK3151141.362901353.24540.40816.314
2Derrick Rose2016-17NYK283580.43845111.09110.4449.257
3Kristaps Porzingis2016-17NYK252256.39334720.35013.45517.773
4Justin Holiday2016-17NYK232038.52618820.40012.63215.750
5Kyle O'Quinn2016-17NYK181633.4851703.0003.4857.438
6Brandon Jennings2016-17NYK231545.33330520.25015.3893.200
7Courtney Lee2016-17NYK231340.32527516.31311.38810.769
8Willy Hernangomez2016-17NYK131320.650712.5001.6758.615
9Mindaugas Kuzminskas2016-17NYK171229.41417613.4627.5178.667
10Lance Thomas2016-17NYK181126.4231559.5564.5195.455
11Joakim Noah2016-17NYK121120.550901.0001.5505.455
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/5/2017.

2015-16 Season

Query Results Table
Rk Player Season Tm G FG FGA FG% FGX 3P 3PA 3P% 3PX eFG% Ast'd %Ast'd
1Carmelo Anthony2015-16NYK68102240.4251381456.25042.45429.284
2Langston Galloway2015-16NYK6966155.426892776.35549.51342.636
3Arron Afflalo2015-16NYK5362129.481671847.38329.55044.710
4Derrick Williams2015-16NYK6248122.39374932.28123.43034.708
5Robin Lopez2015-16NYK434469.63825000.63825.568
6Jerian Grant2015-16NYK5743141.30598538.13233.32315.349
7Lance Thomas2015-16NYK4541100.410591935.54316.50534.829
8Kristaps Porzingis2015-16NYK453492.370581134.32423.42924.706
9Kyle O'Quinn2015-16NYK413072.4174217.1436.42419.633
10Kevin Seraphin2015-16NYK352368.3384502.0002.33814.609
11Jose Calderon2015-16NYK341948.39629922.40913.4909.474
12Sasha Vujacic2015-16NYK261645.35629926.34617.45614.875
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/5/2017.

2014-15 Season

Query Results Table
Rk Player Season Tm G FG FGA FG% FGX 3P 3PA 3P% 3PX eFG% Ast'd %Ast'd
1Carmelo Anthony2014-15NYK253581.43246520.25015.46311.314
2Tim Hardaway2014-15NYK272145.46724928.32119.56716.762
3Amar'e Stoudemire2014-15NYK171732.53115000.5318.471
4Jason Smith2014-15NYK231542.3572714.2503.3699.600
5Langston Galloway2014-15NYK171433.42419715.4678.5307.500
6Shane Larkin2014-15NYK231134.3242318.1257.3386.545
7Lance Thomas2014-15NYK171025.4001502.0002.4007.700
8J.R. Smith2014-15NYK12825.32017311.2738.3804.500
9Alexey Shved2014-15NYK9425.16021110.1009.1802.500
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/5/2017.

I find this data interesting, and it reinforces my gut feel that Melo has not been Clutch for the Knicks.

  • Melo takes most of the Crunch Time shots. This season he has taken 50% more shots than the next volume shooter, Derrick Rose.
  • A high percentage of his shots shots are 3-pointers (38%) with a low make rate (25%).
  • He is assisted on only 31% of his baskets, which means that 70% of the time it is iso-Melo at work.
  • These are pretty consistent numbers over the last 3 years. And in some cases getting worse: the percentage of 3-point shots has increased while his 3-point shooting percentage has remained steady at 25%.

Compare his Knicks Crunch Time stats with the same stats when he was with the Nuggets the year they made the conference finals in 2008-9:

Query Results Table
Rk Player Season Tm G FG FGA FG% FGX 3P 3PA 3P% 3PX eFG% Ast'd %Ast'd
1Carmelo Anthony2008-09DEN302041.48821515.33310.54911.550
2J.R. Smith2008-09DEN281542.357271127.40716.48812.800
3Linas Kleiza2008-09DEN251532.46917110.1009.48412.800
4Nene Hilario2008-09DEN141117.647601.0001.6477.636
5Kenyon Martin2008-09DEN181025.4001548.5004.4807.700
6Chauncey Billups2008-09DEN231033.30323315.20012.3482.200
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/5/2017.
  • He was not as dominant, taking nearly the same amount of shots as the second-most player.
  • He shot a much higher percentage (49%)
  • He shot about the same percentage on 3-pointers, but made more of them.
  • He was assisted on 55% of his baskets, which says that his shots were in the flow of the offense and not as much iso-Melo.

My take-away from this analysis is that iso-Melo is not very efficient at Crunch Time. But this is not entirely Melo's fault. Watching the end of last night's game - and many previous games - the Knicks offense breaks down. There is not much ball movement, or player movement, and it devolves into hero ball. What is Melo supposed to do when he gets the ball with 10 seconds on the shot clock and all the other players stand around and wait for him to do something? He does what a scorer always does, he hoists up the best shot he can create.

Is this a coaching issue? Or do the players ignore the coaches and just play the way they want to play? I don't know the answer to this. But it is clear that Melo has not been Clutch for quite a while.

Best Rookie Move: Installing a Computerized Point-of-Sale System

Best Rookie Move: Installing a Computerized Point-of-Sale System

When we took over the store 2 years ago it was operating totally on paper.

  • Each register transaction was hand-written and hand-calculated. (You can just imagine the difficulty of reconciling the daily transactions).
  • There was no purchase order system to see what was on order.
  • There was no inventory system
  • There was no way to run reports to find the winners and the dogs.
  • Special order requests were on scraps of paper

There was no way that we could step into the management role of this operation without computerized control and reporting. But moving from the paper-based system we inherited to a computerized one would be torturous.

But we bit the bullet and made the move. And thank goodness we did. As I sit here and run detailed reports on the performance over the last year in an effort to improve the operation I am reminded, again, what an important step that was.

The thing that made me think of this move was a conversation I had with a fellow retailer yesterday. She was in the midst of doing a year-end inventory count. This consisted of hand-building a spreadsheet to use for counting. Some of the counts were Categories-only, e.g. Small Gift Items. The spreadsheet had a formula for translating selling price into an approximate cost.

Now, to be fair, they have far less SKUs than we do. But still, when we get around to our annual inventory count we will take our iPads out onto the floor, along with our portable scan guns, and zap-and-count our way to an accurate inventory count.

Yes, it was a painful transition to put in the computerized point-of-sale system, but sometimes Rookies can make the right play.

Open-To-Buy Planning

Open-To-Buy Planning

It's the start of a new year, and time to run reports on the business and do some planning for the coming year. One of the tools I use is a simple Open-to-Buy (OTB) system to plan my inventory purchasing throughout the year.

When I look at the inventory in my store I see stacks of $20 bills which could be in my bank account. When inventory is to high it means my bank account is too low. But, conversely, if inventory is too low I could be hurting my sales - which affects my bank account as well. Finding a balance is what inventory planning is all about.

The OTB system uses a formula to tell you what your budget should be for inventory received on a monthly basis. The system is very logical:

OTB = ENDING INVENTORY TARGET - BEGINNING INVENTORY - SALES

In English, this formula states that in my budget for purchasing to hit my target inventory at the end of the month is dependant on my starting inventory and my sales for the month. In other words, my budget for inventory received in the month is basically replacing my sales volume and modifying that amount depending on whether I want to see my inventory increase or decrease during that month.

The ENDING INVENTORY target is based on a forward looking projection of sales and a target for inventory turns. For example, if I want to have 3 inventory turns a year this means that at the beginning of each month I should have inventory in stock to support sales for that month plus the next 3 months (4 months in total). 

Simple, in theory. 

In practice, there are some challenges if you have a seasonal business, as I do. Our biggest selling period during the year, not surprisingly, is OCTOBER-NOVEMBER-DECEMBER. Our slowest selling period of the year is JANUARY-FEBRUARY-MARCH. The problem is that the Peak is followed directly by the Trough. In fact, the biggest selling month, December, is immediately preceding the Trough - which creates a cliff-like drop off in targeted Inventory amount.

The OTB system works quite well in building for the peak season. The forward looking budget allows me to build inventory for the peak season across a number of months, thus smoothing the cash flow requirements. But there is a problem in the December to January transition.

There seems to be no way to make this transition smooth. In order to support the sales projections for December we must have inventory in the store. And even with a good sales month that leaves us with significantly more inventory in January than the forward looking OTB would demand. And if we managed the December inventory to make the January inventory amount closer to the OTB projection then it feels like we would not have enough inventory in December to do the sales we expect.

I am not sure how to solve this riddle. The traditional retailer approach to this is the ubiquitous January Clearance Sale. While we do run a store-wide sale in January, the customer traffic is so much lower than December that it just does not burn off a significant amount of inventory (but it does cut into the Margin).

We did much better this year than last year in managing the inventory. Our Beginning Inventory in January was 33% less than the year before. Yay for the home team. But even that is almost 2x what the OTB model would like to see.

I am not sure what other retailers do with Inventory Management in a seasonal business, but I would very much like to hear some best practices to compare with. In any event, we had a very good year so this conundrum falls into the realm of How-do-I-improve - which is the constant mode of every business owner.

Gilbert Gottfried interviews Sonny Fox

Gilbert Gottfried interviews Sonny Fox

Full disclosure, Sonny Fox is my uncle. He and my mother are siblings. He just celebrated his 91st birthday and he is still going strong. He still travels regularly, has numerous projects he is working on and, as you will hear in this interview, he is still as erudite as ever. Sonny has always liked to talk and this interview gives him plenty of space to do just that.

In this podcast you will here him expound on:

  • His time as a Jewish prisoner of war in a Nazi war camp.
  • How he got fired from the $64,000 Challenge for "asking the answers".
  • How he leveraged "listening to children" into one of the beloved local TV shows of its era - Wonderama.
  • ...much more.

Enjoy.

This is an art piece, not a real person!

This is an art piece, not a real person!

I swear, when I first saw this I thought it was just some old guy resting. As I looked more closely I understood that this was one of the art pieces on display at at Crystal Bridges Museum, which we were visiting. It was so lifelike that I was sure this was some actor who was putting us on. I was sure he would get up at any moment.

This was awesome.

@Quip Support Sucks

@Quip Support Sucks

I rarely write histrionic attacks. But I am quite peeved about my recent interaction with the support team at Quip. Let me explain.

The Great Encryption Debate

The Great Encryption Debate

Should there be a back door to our encrypted digital devices/content so that law enforcement can have access for investigative purposes? Or does our right to privacy preclude any such access?

Listen to this conversation with Albert Wenger and Mike Masnick. I won't prejudice you with my opinions other than to say this is worth an hour of your time.

So Long Circus Ponies, I WIll Miss You

So Long Circus Ponies, I WIll Miss You

Circus Ponies has made the announcement that they are closing their doors. They published a unique software app called Notebook. I was a long time user of Notebook and it was one the best apps I have ever used. I will miss it for sure.

I can't say I am surprised at this announcement. While I have years of Notebooks on my drive, I had switched to using Evernote as my repository for my life. I made this switch because of Evernote's ubiquity (It runs on all my devices). Notebook, as good as it was, worked best on my iMac, sort of OK on my iPad, and not at all on my smartphone.

Circus Ponies Notebook was done in by the great paradigm switch to Mobile. As good as it was - and it was a VERY good app - if I could only use it on my desktop computer (or better said, if I couldn't use it on my smartphone) then it was difficult to fit it into my daily workflow.

As I ramped up my use of Evernote, I constantly trolled the Circus Ponies website for any hint of a new version that would give me a reason to return to the fold. I even upgraded to version 4 and purchased the iPad app in the hopes that it would work just well enough that I could drop Evernote. But, alas, release activity slowed to a trickle - and then ceased.

This lack of release activity raised my antenna. And when their discussion forum went dark I put them on a death watch. Periodically and irregularly I would do a Google search to see if there was any announcement. Hoping for a product release announcement, but expecting a closing of the doors. And this morning I saw this:

And so it goes. The demise of Circus Ponies and their outstanding app Notebook will not register with most people. But for me there is a real sadness at coming to this (inevitable) fork in the road. Small eccentric creative iconic apps are getting harder to sustain. I will make a note in my Evernote to be on the look out for the next one.