Gnate and Nate?

My writing this week hasn’t been shedding Isiah Thomas’ latest move in a positive light. However one day after the draft would be a foolish time to continue to rain on the Knicks. Just one day after the draft Channing Frye is a future All Star, Nate Robinson is the backup PG that is better than half the starters in the league, and David Lee is going walk right in & fill Kurt Thomas’ shoes.

In fact despite railing on the deal just a few days ago, I was pretty excited when I heard that the Kurt Thomas trade was finalized because New York got Nate Robinson. No I haven’t changed my mind on the deal, because I think Richardson is an average player who doesn’t address the Knicks main needs. However if the deal had to go through, getting “Gnate” made it palatable. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the small guys. Years ago when Earl Boykins was a Net and Cavalier castoff I advocated from the top of my barstool that the Knicks should pick him up.

There are just so many reasons to like the diminutive player. I didn’t get to watch much of the NCAA tournament this year, but I saw at least one Washington game. Nate is one of those guys that you can’t help but keep your eyes on, because he will make something exciting happen. Although the Knicks do lack flash, I think Robinson can contribute as a solid player as well. Before going mainstream, the APBRmetric-minded Kevin Pelton gave him a nice write up over at draftcity.com. Meanwhile I can entertain thoughts in my head that Robinson will consider playing nickelback/kick returner for my beloved New York Jets.

Getting back to the Knicks I’m not sure whether they’ve solved their defensive problem. The reviews of Frye is that he’s a polished offensive player, but on defense the word “soft” has been thrown around. While he is a shot blocker, that talent doesn’t always translate from college to the pros. Knicks fans know that we’re not getting Tim Duncan or Tyson Chandler, but the answer to the question on exactly how much Frye can help solidify their D will have to wait. Obviously David Lee isn’t the defensive answer unless the Knicks trade Mike Sweetney (doh!) or Malik Rose (hooray!).

Even without getting another player, there is something Isiah and the Knicks can do to improve their defense: hire a defensive-minded coach. While I don’t believe that a coach can turn an awful defensive team into a stellar one, a good coach might be able to get the Knicks going in the right direction. Larry Brown would be a no-brainer, but there are two other possibilities that I wouldn’t mind New York considering. I know P.J. Carlesimo isn’t the popular choice in town, but he took the last ranked Warriors and turned them into an above average 12th in just two years. The Sprewell incident and sitting on the bench next to Emperor Popovich should make him a more experienced coach.

Nate McMillan’s contract should run out any second now. While the Sonics weren’t a defensive juggernaut, McMillan’s team made the most of what they had, had might have give the Spurs a run for their money had they not have a series of unfortunate injuries. Nate would give the Knicks their first legitimate coach since Jeff Van Gundy, and if he were able to bring over uber-consultant Dean Oliver it would be the icing on the cake. I?d still prefer a known commodity over guys like Herb Williams or Bill Laimbeer. With the draft out of the way, getting a coach should be the #1 priority on the Knicks list.

A Question For The Readers

I’ve noticed that I get a good amount of intelligent comments to my blog, so I’m going to open up the floor. This isn’t aimed at anyone, but one common thread I’ve heard in regards to the Kurt Thomas-Quentin Richardson trade (both here and on various message boards) is that the Knicks got good value considering what they gave up. My question is: is this a fair argument considering that Isiah Thomas is the one that signed Kurt to that deal in the first place? If you agree that signing a 32 year old PF to a 5 year deal when you have a legitimate young replacement waiting in the wings is a bad deal, then does that paint this trade in a different light?

Richardson Deal More of the Same

Looking at Isiah Thomas’ trades one-by-one, it’s hard to find many that I’d throw in the ‘losing’ pile. It’s hard to argue with getting a talent like Stephon Marbury, especially considering what New York gave up. Trading Keith Van Horn was an unpopular move, but Nazr Mohammed’s development made the deal a steal for New York. While trading him a year later looked bad in the short term, the Knicks received two draft picks to potentially rebuild upon. I’m sure there wasn’t a wet eye in the house when Clarence Weatherspoon was sent to Houston, Shandon Anderson was bought out, or Slavko Vranes was cut.

On the other hand, there are few deals Isiah Thomas has done that I would disagree with. I wasn’t crazy about the Crawford deal (although I was more upset of Frank Williams being included in the trade) and I called the Maurice Taylor trade “a head-scratcher“. If you’re scoring at home, Isiah’s seems to come out with the long end of the stick more often than not. So why haven’t the Knicks shown improvement over that time?

The answer is simple; while Isiah Thomas has done well deal-to-deal he hasn’t had a overall plan with New York. The most comprehensive scheme I’ve heard from the Knicks president is that he wants to get “younger and more athletic”. Undoubtedly the Knicks are younger & more athletic than they were when he arrived, but last year they finished 4 games worse than 2003, Scott Layden’s last full year.

It’s because “younger and athletic” doesn’t mean better. If you look back at the 1994 team, how many of these players would you call young & athletic out of Ewing, Oakley, Starks, Anthony, Davis, Mason, and Harper? Chris Anderson may more nimble than Tim Duncan, but “the Bird Man” has trouble scoring even when he’s got the court to himself for 60 seconds. Physical ability is important in sports, but in the NBA, you also need skill and talent as well.

As far as I can tell, the Knicks have two major problems: defense and money. The Knicks were 26th on defense last year, and they had the highest team salary in the league. The Kurt Thomas for Quentin Richardson trade may be a good deal on it’s own, but it really doesn’t address either of New York’s major issues. In fact it typifies Isiah’s reign as New York GM. Get an athletic guy in his mid 20s who’s available because we’re willing to take on a lengthy contract.

Just observe Isiah’s 4 biggest acquisitions. None of Marbury, Thomas, Crawford, or (if the rumors are true) Richardson are even passable defenders. While Stephon is a legitimate offensive force who makes up for his deficiencies on the other end of the court, the same can’t be said of the other three. In regards to the ledgers, Tim Thomas’ contract mercifully ends after next season, but the others will be around for at least 4 more seasons. Pundits will call this trade a good deal for New York, because Richardson is younger, his contract is only a year longer, and they need a small forward more than a power forward. To me, this deal is more of the same. The Knicks won’t improve until they fix their defense and get smarter with the books.

Addios 2005!

Congratulations to the San Antonio Spurs. Even though they were the team just about everyone selected when the season started, it wasn’t an easy road to the championship. Detroit proved to be a better team than most people expected.

There is an interview with Charlie Rosen the author of “The Pivotal Season: How the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers Changed the NBA” on OnlyBaseballMatters.com. You think AlmostAlwaysBaseballMatters.com is taken?

All’s Well That Ends Well

Just a short time ago things looked bleak for the NBA. The two most intriguing teams, Phoenix and Miami, were eliminated from the playoffs. The 2005 NBA Finals were to feature two defensive stalwarts, the Pistons and the Spurs. While these teams are the best at preventing other teams from scoring, the New York Sun’s Martin Johnson pointed out that this type of matchup is lost to the average viewer. (And questioned why defensive guru-turned tv analyst Hubie Brown doesn’t explain the finer points of the game while on the air). In fact my visiting father-in-law, who is not a sports fan, said that he doesn’t understand how a team could prevent the other from scoring.

To give those that wanted the Suns or Heat in the Finals something more to whine about, the first two games of the series were possibly the most lopsided in history. As if things weren’t dark enough, the shaddow of a work-stoppage hung over the league. When the player’s union head Billy Hunter resorted to the race card, it seemed inevitable that the lockout would cancel free agency and the summer leagues.

However something funny happened on the way to the Palace. The Pistons came roaring back, destroying the Spurs in Detroit, to tie the series. Game five was a classic, with everything a fan could have asked for. Arguably the game’s best player, Tim Duncan, couldn’t overcome his weakness and missed several free throws down the stretch. The Pistons, who led with time running down in overtime, seemed poised to go up 3-2 in the series, an improbable thought given the first two games. What was even less possible was that Robert Horry would score 21 points in the 4th & 5th quarters, the 21st sealing the victory for San Antonio.

If game 5 wasn’t enough to make the sun shine on the NBA, the players and owners agreed on a deal well over a week before the deadline. On the other hand the NHL has gone 281 days since their CBA expired, without any resolution. Facing elimination, the Pistons won a gritty game 6, forcing a final match. I can’t remember the last time I was this excited to watch a game 7 that didn’t include my team. Unfortunately, for my mental well being, I’m not allowed to speak of the last Finals that went 7 games, but the one before that was decided by 3 points despite the Lakers being up by 15 to start the 4th. While an exciting start to the series could have made things more dramatic, the season is certainly ending well.

Chatting About Phil & The Lakers

[15:47] Me: be interesting to see how he does with a “bad” team
[15:48] Friend1: just like bulls of old
[15:48] Friend1: one star and roll players
[15:48] Me: Well one & a half
[15:48] Friend1: odom is 1/2 ?
[15:49] Me: lol
[15:49] Me: no Jordan = 1.5 stars

AND

[15:48] Friend2: my guess is that Phil thinks he sees something there
[15:50] Me: Yeah Phil sees something there that none of us do – Jeanie Buss naked
[15:50] Friend2: Anyone can see Jeanie Buss naked — she posed for Playboy


So Knick fans can start talking about P.J., Saunders, Larry Brown, Laimbeer, and of course Herb Williams. One thing to ponder – why don’t the Knicks have a coach yet? I can think of three reasons. The first is that Isiah was waiting for Phil Jackson. I have a hard time believing this one, because the Knicks GM doesn’t seem to be patient enough to wait for one person, even someone of Phil’s stature.

The second theory is that Isiah is waiting for P.J. Carlesimo’s season to end. Maybe P.J.’s cooled off since the incident, but it’s possible that being a strict disciplinarian is what Zeke wants. It’s could be that the Knicks recent “soft” coaching has been part of their problem, especially on defense. Remember not only did Thomas win a championship under the tyrannical Bob Knight, but he was going to hire him as a mentor. That so crazy it’s like Jesse Friedman hiring Michael Jackson for some counseling.

The third is that Isiah just hasn’t figured out who to hire. That would scare me, because it seems that this offseason there are a handful of good candidates to choose from. If the Knicks are waiting for P.J. (or even Larry Brown), then it makes sense to wait. However, if that isn’t part of Thomas’ plan, then why not grab Coach Saunders? Flip has a good relationship with Isiah’s main acquisition Marbury, and had a good record in Minnesota nearly leading them to the Finals last year. Of course it’s possible that Saunders isn’t the right coach for this team, but it’s a safe choice. In any case, I’d prefer a “proven” coach than a guy like Laimbeer or even Herb Williams. I didn’t particularly like what I saw from Williams in his “try-out” this year, and having success in the WNBA doesn’t necessarily translate into the NBA (right Michael?)