Losing <> Rebuilding

People say this is a rebuilding year, we are suppose to lose.

This is rebuilding. It just doesn’t seem like it because this should have been Scott Layden’s responsibility.

this team is four years behind schedule thanks to Scott Layden’s refusal to do anything that resembled a rebuilding process. What we are seeing now is that rebuilding process, more or less, and you can expect to see this for the next two or three years because that’s at least how long it takes to turn things around.

The fans say the Knicks are rebuilding. The press says the team is rebuilding. Even the Knicks front office has admitted as much. But I’m not one who just accepts conventional wisdom. So I ask “should the label ‘rebuilding’ be applied to the Knicks?” I could call myself “Dick Cheney” or “Chancellor of the Klingon Empire,” but if my actions don’t match that of an evil tyrant, then those descriptions are rejected. However if I choose to call myself “KnickerBlogger” and perform duties that others would expect from a “KnickerBlogger”, then the term is accurate.

So what does “rebuilding” mean when applied to a sports team? Rebuilding teams are concerned with winning in the future, while their opposite, competing teams, are concerned with winning now. Competing teams usually trade away their draft picks for players that can help them immediately. For example last year the Spurs traded away a pair of first round picks in order to acquire Nazr Mohammed for their championship run. One characteristic of a rebuilding franchise is a team that stockpiles draft picks or tries to improve on the quality of their picks.

Although there are other elements of rebuilding, such as freeing cap space or trading for players, teams still need the draft to improve themselves. Signing Steve Nash or trading for Shaq would not have made their respective teams championship caliber had those teams not drafted All Stars like Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, and Dwayne Wade. Building a strong team without the draft is possible, but it’s not a legitimate strategy. For instance, to repeat the Pistons success another team would have to unearth gems like Ben Wallace and Chauncy Billups. Digging through the league’s unwanted bin looking for All Stars is not a high percentage move.

So one way to judge whether the term rebuilding can be applied to Isiah Thomas’ Knicks, is by looking at each trade regarding draft picks and see if it falls under the “win now” or “win later” category.

Thomas’ first major move was to trade the Knicks 2004 1st round pick, and a conditional future 1st round pick to the Phoenix Suns in the Stephon Marbury deal. While Marbury is young enough to be considered “win later”, the picks moved, the contracts taken on, and the young talent traded away pushes this trade into the “win now” pile.

Isiah’s second draft pick transaction was the Keith Van Horn trade. In this deal he sent a 2nd rounder in order to get Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed. A year later the Knicks would parlay Nazr Mohammed into a pair of first round picks, clearly a rebuilding move. So let’s combine these two moves into one and add it to the “win later” pile. On the same day Nazr was shipped out of New York, they sent a 2nd round pick to acquire Maurice Taylor. Isiah Thomas might be the first GM in history to have a “rebuild the franchise” trade and a “compete right now” trade on the same day.

Over the summer, New York made two deals involving their draft picks. A draft day deal had the Knicks moving up from the 54th pick to the 21st pick (Nate Robinson) losing only veteran Kurt Thomas. Clearly a “win later” move. A few weeks after, the Knicks traded for Eddy Curry. Although Curry’s status as a former 4th overall pick, might give the impression of a rebuilding move, the surrounding elements clearly mark it as a “win now” deal. The Knicks gave up a slew of picks, including next year’s #1, the option for the Bulls to swap #1 picks the year after, and two 2nd round picks (2007 & 2009).

If you are scoring at home, Isiah’s Knicks have made 3 “win now” deals, and 2 “win later” deals. Optimists might say that the Marbury and Curry deals were “win later” proposals swinging it 4-1 in favor of rebuilding moves. However let’s look at how Isiah Thomas has treated New York’s draft picks year by year to get an overall picture:

2003: The 2003 draft was handled by Layden, but no players drafted remain due to Isiah’s trades.
2004: Traded away 1st round pick (#16).
2005: Traded away their 2nd round pick. Traded for a late 1st round pick (#30 – David Lee). Traded for a second round pick (#54), then traded that pick to move up to a mid 1st (#21 Nate Robinson).
2006: Traded away their 1st round pick (based on Knicks record – currently projected to be a lottery pick). Traded away their second round pick. Traded for 1st round pick (Spurs – projected to be a late pick).
2007: Gave the Bulls an option to swap 1st round picks. Traded away their 2nd round pick.
2008+: The Knicks have traded away a future 1st round pick that has to be used before 2010. They also have traded their 2009 2nd round pick.

In the 8 years between 2003 and 2010, the Knicks have essentially traded their own first round pick at least 4 times (5 if you include the 2007 Bulls’ swap). They’ve traded their own second round pick 5 times. While they have acquired 1st rounders as well, none will be impact players. In the next three years it’s likely that the Knicks will not have any of their first round picks, and only 1 of their second round picks. Simply put, the Knicks have taken the free draft picks given to them by the league and downgraded them or flat out gave them away at nearly every turn.

Another characteristic of a rebuilding team is a losing record, and right now the Knicks are losing at an alarming rate. However just because a team can’t buy a win doesn’t necessarily mean it’s rebuilding. To use the dreaded “r” word, the team should be actively trying to win in the future. For example the 1997 Spurs won only 20 games, but they weren’t rebuilding. San Antonio lost David Robinson for the year, and they knew they would be getting him back the next season. They didn’t trade Avery Johnson or Vinnie Del Negro for a couple of picks, despite the pair being on the wrong side of thirty. From the evidence above, the Knicks aren’t rebuilding either. They’re just doing a really bad job of “winning now.”


Specials thanks to the below two web sites for providing the information used in this article.

http://www.hoopshype.com/general_managers/isiah_thomas.htm
http://www5.realgm.com/src_future_draftpicks.php

Spurs 109 Knicks 96

New York continued its hot losing streak by dropping 7 straight. A first quarter Knicks scoring drought was capped by a pair of missed free throws from Trevor Ariza giving them a 15-4 early deficit. Jerome James poured in 1 point and grabbed a single rebound to spark the loss. “I was just out there last night” said the New York center. James was trying to encourage his teammates and was heard yelling “Cha-CHING!” near the Knicks bench.

The Knicks initial game plan was to escort San Antonio guard Tony Parker to the hoop early and often. However the players on the court shifted gears, improvising midway through the first. “Parker was blowing past the Knicks perimeter for an easy two,” said Marbury “but the points didn’t add up quickly enough. So we decided to collapse everyone on him, and sure enough he was kicking it out for three. At that point we were really rolling.”

New York’s strategy worked as they gave up a scorching 50% from three point land. The fans noticed the effort and gave the Knicks their due applause. “They were cheering ‘Mar-BOOOOOOO-Ry’ all night,” said Jamal Crawford. “It’s great that with the awful mess the city is in with the transit strike during the holidays, we were able to lift their spirits.”

“We never had anything like this in Arizona” said rookie Channing Frye. “A lot of this is new to me, and I’m trying to learn everything I can from these veterans.”

New York hopes to push their streak to 8 with a blowout loss to the Jazz.

Knicks Unbearable To Watch

I turned the TV off.

And I rarely turn the tv off. Even in a blowout loss, there are a few interesting things that can make the game worthwhile. Sometimes the 11th & 12th man will make an appearance, and the end of the bench guys are always fan favorites. In the tail end of his career, assistant coach Herb Williams would come off the bench to cheers of “Herb! Herb! Herb!” Unfortunately Larry Brown’s rotation is so deep that seeing the 11th man isn’t reserved for blowouts. Hence the little joy I got last year from a Bruno Sundov sighting isn’t even there this year.

Although the chance of coming back from a 20 point deficit is miniscule, being around for one can be an exhilarating experience. The best NFL game I ever watched was the Jets Monday night game against the Dolphins, where they rallied from 23 points down in the final quarter and won the game in OT. But watching the last Knicks’ game, I felt like Popeye after he’s gotten his ass kicked for the last time. “I?ve stood all I can stands, and I cants stands no more!” And off the tv went.

Right now, the Knicks have sunk to rock bottom. It was understandable when they lost to the Clippers and Suns just last week. Both teams are having good seasons, and the Knicks went into the 4th quarter of each game either tied or winning. But after those two games, they lost by 20 to the Bucks, and by 15 to the Magic. If back to back humiliations weren’t bad enough, they followed it up by getting laughed out of Atlanta.

Normally this would be acceptable for a rebuilding team. I can watch the Jets because I can find a silver lining whether they win or lose. If they win, well it should be obvious why that would be a joyous occasion. However, if they lose, at least I can console myself knowing the Jets are getting a better position in next year’s draft. Unfortunately the Knick have denied me even that. New York is tied for the 4th worst record in the league, and as the Bucks showed last year it’s entirely possible to win the draft lottery from that position. However the Knicks have already traded their first round pick unconditionally to the Bulls in the Eddy Curry deal. I can’t even take solace that every loss would make their second round pick better, because they’ve traded that pick away for Maurice Taylor. I can’t take solace that they could grab the top pick in the 2007 draft, because they’ve given the Bulls the option to swap those picks as well.

In other words, every Knick defeat lacks any positive merit. Isiah Thomas has gone all in with this year’s team, and right now he has the worst hand at the table. He’s sold off everything the Knicks own in the next two years to do it, and so far the results are 6-16. Right now Isiah’s only chance is some superstar forcing his way to New York, and those odds are as slim as getting an inside royal flush. Boston is not going to trade Paul Pierce to a division rival, Kevin Garnett is happy now that the ‘Wolves are winning again. LeBron, Kobe, Duncan, Nowitzki, Amare, Nash, or McGrady, aren’t going anywhere. The Knicks are the guy at the poker table with a shit hand, not drawing any cards, who keeps peaking at them hoping that somehow they’ve changed from the last time he looked.

So the next time you’re watching the Knicks, and they’re getting blown out by one of the worst teams in the league, don’t think of how they might have gotten Rudy Gay, Andrea Bargnani, or LaMarcus Aldridge. Just turn the tv off.

Why the Knicks should leave Artest alone

[Although his original piece was lost due to an electronic malfunction, Lead Roster Analyst David Crawford recesitated these free thoughts about acquiring Ron Artest.]

1. The Knicks are at a crossroads similar to the one they faced just prior to the Marbury trade. Should they import new talent or steady the cap situation and build with the kids? In retrospect, with the benefit of perfect hindsight, it’s hard to see how making the move for Marbury was worth it. Isiah’s real strength is the draft. The Knicks would have been better served to ride out the Anderson, Witherspoon, and Eisley contracts, and develop their young players.

2. Soley adding Artest doesn’t move the Knicks into the top echelon of Eastern conference teams. Although he is an uber-productive player, entrance into the upper tier is at least one or two moves away for New York (plus some time for the youngins to develop together). Certainly Artest could be one of those moves, but if the price to get him includes absorbing another wretched contract, New York can’t make the other move. Each of Isiah’s trades for Marbury, Crawford, and Curry has come with a poison pill contract that has hindered the Knicks from making other supplemental moves.

3. While some have suggested there are similarities between Ron Artest’s situation and the one Latrell Sprewell faced years ago, there is one critical difference between the two. Sprewell was brought onto a veteran team that had its own personality, and Artest would be brought onto a young team as its best player and leader. Unfortunately, Artest is too immature and unpredictable to handle this kind of responsibility.

I would love to see the Knicks make the playoffs, but looking back they also made the playoffs under Don Chaney. It’s easy for some to forget what a pyrrhic victory making the playoffs is when you get swept. This season is about climbing out of the hole, seeing what this team has to develop, and finding what it needs to compete. I’m not against seeing Artest in the orange-and-blue, but I’d be more comfortable seeing that happen after this contract is up in 2008, if he is indeed serious about coming back home.

Bucks 112 Knicks 92

Finally, the Knicks didn’t have to worry about their offense. Despite entering the game with the 28th ranked offense, they shot 55.8% (eFG) from the field and had a rebound percentage of 32.3%. Unfortunately it was their defense that let them down, as they lost by 20 to the Milwaukee Bucks in New York.

Channing Frye started off sizzling hot. He hit his first 6 shots, embarrassing fellow rookie Andrew Bogut along the way. Bogut did get his revenge on the 7th shot, blocking Frye and grabbing the loose ball all in one motion. Unfazed, Channing came right back at the Aussie. Frye received the ball on the left block with Bogut behind him, and turned to face the hoop. He faked a step towards the hoop creating enough space to square himself and bury a twelve footer. A few minutes later Robinson would hit Frye cutting to the hoop, and Channing would earn two trips to the line.

The amazing aspect is Frye did all of the above in the first quarter. On the night, the Knicks’ rookie went 14-18 for 30 points, and threw in 7 boards, 2 blocks, 2 assists, and a steal. Unfortunately while Frye was helping his case for rookie of the year, the Bucks were busy improving their position in the standings.

Yesterday’s victory should pull the Bucks even with the Pacers for 4th spot in the East. Seemingly, Milwaukee only needed three ways to score against New York. The first was to have T.J. Ford drive to the hoop unabated and kick the ball out for a three point shot. The second was to have Redd or Williams use off the ball screens to get open for a three point shot. The final way was to have Dan Gadzuric beat in transition whichever Knick bigman was on the floor at the time. Of course when any of those failed Magloire, Bogut, or Gadzuric would just grab the Milwaukee miss so that they could try again. Not that the Bucks missed much.

Milwaukee shot 61.5% (eFG) from the field, and was more accurate from three point land (12 of 19) than the Knicks were from the line (6-13). They hit the century mark half way through the 4th quarter, which for those that like fractions was 7/8 through the game. The Bucks were lead by their two APBRmetric friendly players. Former cover boy of the 2003 Basketball Prospectus, Michael Redd, scored 31 points with a eFG% of 67.6% and a TS% of 74.0%. Gadzuric who normally sticks out numerically for his ability to rebound, steal, and block shots, was second on the Bucks with 18 points. While he didn’t record a single steal or blocked shot, his agility earned him easy bucket after easy bucket in transition.

Knick fans who stuck around to the bitter end, were treated to a Qyntel Woods sighting. Woods, doing what any player would trying to earn a spot on an NBA team, jacked up the ball at his first opportunity. He nailed that three, and went on to score 5 points in 7 minutes. Woods averaged 28.6 pts/40 on 83.3% shooting (eFG) for the night, but unfortunately for the Knicks it was one night where they didn’t need more offense.

Knicks 81 Suns 85

[This entry is brought to you by Knickerblogger.net?s Lead Field Reporter, Dave Crockett. The good doctor has been shipped out to the West Coast on his own dime, so he could get a better view of the Knicks game from his hotel room. As always, he can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com]

Last night’s Knicks-Suns game was one I see this team winning by the spring. Their defensive effort, save some lapses, was solid considering the opponent. Phoenix shot 46.4% eFG% while the Knicks shot 45.5%. Of course the most obvious bugaboo continues to be turnovers. Some of them are pure carelessness with the ball. The Knicks seem like they are good for 5-6 “I just wasn’t paying attention” turnovers every night. Some turnovers are a function of their limited familiarity with each other. Those two categories of turnovers should decline as players get more used to their roles (so they’re not trying to think and play at the same time) and gain more familiarity.

Still, one frustrating aspect of last night’s game that has repeated itself throughout the season is the generally poor decision making on the part of so many players. The turnovers and poor shot attempts that result from bad decision making I fear will plague this team all year. Following the recent online discussion at KB.Net about Marbury’s play, his decision making has been my big disappointment. When he is asked to step outside his comfort zone of screen-roll or penetrate-and-kick his decision making suffers. (Much like a quarterback forced to go through his progressions to the 2nd and 3rd receiver.) The criticism Marbury often receives in the press is far too simplistic. As the guest columnist pointed out aptly, ball-hogging really is not Marbury’s problem. As i suggested in the discussion, Marbury’s real issue is that he’s a two trick pony. Where he struggles is when he is asked to facilitate post-up play.

Last night was a case in point. He had a very solid game offensively. It was certainly not a game where i’d accuse him of being selfish. He was aggressive early, looked to set up teammates throughout the 2nd half, and took good shots at the end. (that last shot that backrimmed was a good shot; just didn’t fall.) Still, the game illustrated his offensive weakness. Far too many times last night the Knicks allowed a smaller, physically outclassed Phoenix frontline to defend their larger front line. The problem was less the big men as it was the guards’ misunderstanding of how to beat a smaller, quicker team with ball and player movement. Consistently, each of the guards (Marbury, Robinson, and Crawford) demonstrated how NOT to do it, by picking up their dribble and waiting for an angle to enter the ball to the big man. It just made me cringe. They’d enter the ball after the player had been bodied off the spot and stand around. It was ugly.

What didn’t happen, and I’d expect Marbury to do this naturally at this point in his career, is for the guard to swing the ball weakside allowing the post player to pin the defender on his back. Another approach is to keep the dribble, penetrate, force the defense to collapse freeing up space for the post and/or putting him in superb offensive rebounding position. Marbury never seemed to recognize this, at least not nearly quickly enough. As a consequence the Knick offense was stagnant. The guards recognized the mismatch but not how to exploit it with ball and player movement. They continued to pick up the dribble, wasting time. This happened throughout the 3rd and 4th quarter. It was maddening.

I’d love to see us try to swing a minor deal for a point guard like Darrell Armstrong – not to start necessarily but to allow Marbury to stick to the two things he does best and let somebody else feed the post.