Babcock Loses Job

Toronto GM Rob Babcock was fired today, and it’s ironic that his former team is not even in last place in their division. The Knicks are below the Raptors in winning percentage, but somehow the Knicks are actually ahead in the “games behind” column. Unlike the Knicks, the Raptors don’t have the luxury of the league’s biggest payroll. Nor do they have a shoe-in hall of fame coach roaming their sidelines. They don’t have the advantage of being one of the biggest sports market in the US. Toronto has to recruit athletes for a winter sport in one of the colder cities in the league. Hell they don’t even collect the American dollar at the gates. And as of today, they’re still doing better than the Knicks.

Since Toronto has opened up the can of worms on firing GMs, I’d like to broach the topic on whether the Knicks should keep Isiah? Right now he’s put together a dubious roster that even Larry Brown can’t get to win more a third of their games. The only thing worse than Isiah’s judgment on NBA talent might be his understanding of the NBA’s salary cap. Just like the team Isiah has inherited, the Knicks lead the league in salary while remaining south of the .500 mark.

Thomas’ strength is his uncanny ability to spot talent in the draft, but he’s traded the next two Knick first round picks. The traded draft picks mean that Isiah won’t be able to use his greatest trait, but it also means he’s removed his second best trait. Look at the Knicks roster & ask who are the Knicks best assets? Personally I would choose Marbury, Frye, Curry, Crawford, Lee, Davis, and Ariza. All of those players except for Crawford were either drafted by the Knicks or acquired with draft picks. Marbury cost the Knicks their 2004 pick, a future 1st round pick, and the 30th pick in the 2003 draft (Maciej Lampe). Curry and Davis came to New York for the Knicks 2006 first rounder, the option to swap 2007 first rounders, two second rounders, and the 9th overall pick in 2003 (Mike Sweetney). Isiah’s track record sans drafting and using picks as bait has been unimpressive. Of his 8 trades, only 3 didn’t have the Knicks shipping away a draft pick, the inconsequential Weatherspoon/Norris swap, the controversial Nazr to the Spurs, and the ‘decision still pending’ Crawford deal. Free agency hasn’t been kind to Isiah either. Reclamation projects like Baker, Woods, and Butler have yet to bear any fruit. Even when given a little money to spend on free agents Thomas has gaffed with the knee slapping, side splitting (to everyone but Knick fans) 5 year deal to Jerome James.

Let’s stop for a second & think about this more objectively. Imagine we can clone the Knicks’ franchise, with everything remaining the same except they don’t have a GM. You’re the owner of a franchise with some promising young players that has mortgaged a bunch of its future draft picks and has the worst salary cap situation in sports. Would you hire a GM who has been successful in drafting players, trading draft picks, and has shown no ability in being able to reduce the salary cap? If the Bulls can turn it around in 2007 with a pair of first rounders and a load of capspace, the Knicks will only see one mid (Bulls ’07) and one late (Spurs ’06) first round pick so they won’t be able to take advantage of Isiah Thomas’ draft wizardry. Additionally, without those future draft picks, Isiah won’t be able to use his second favorite tactic: dangling picks in front of other teams looking to unload players (Marbury, Curry) that they’ve soured on.

Take a look at Isiah Thomas’ track record. Outside of the draft, Isiah’s acquisitions have been risky gambles. Some have turned out reasonably well (Nazr Mohammed, Jamal Crawford) while others have gone from harmless wastes of time (Vin Baker, Tim Thomas, Qyntel Woods) to the downright bad (Jerome James, Quentin Richardson, Malik Rose, Penny Hardaway). The rest are muddled with cap and trade implications (Eddy Curry, Stephon Marbury) that make it hard to judge whether or not they were worth it. In baseball terms Isiah Thomas might be a Dave Kingman, Rob Deer, or Pete Incaviglia. Someone that hits for a low average, but is always swinging for the fences. Continuing the metaphor, the Knicks have a runner on third with two outs in the ninth inning of a tie game. In this situation, Isiah Thomas is not the man you want at the plate. I’d rather have a slap hitter that can get that run home, than the guy who is going to strike out trying to put two on the scoreboard. Translating back to basketball, today’s New York Knicks need a guy that can dump some salary and grab some useful guys that can fill the rotation. As far as I’m concerned, Isiah Thomas has shown he’s not that guy.

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Mike Kurylo

Mike Kurylo is the founder and editor of His book on the 2012 Knicks, "We’ll Always Have Linsanity," is on sale now. Follow him on twitter (@KnickerBlogger).

24 thoughts to “Babcock Loses Job”

  1. the problem with firing zeke is that the new guy is going to want to do something, anything, just to make a splash as GM. Instead of firing him, the organization should just come out and admit that we are in full rebuild mode, and dictate that all future moves reflect that.

  2. I think given the sexual harrassment situation, the team’s poor record, lack of future draft picks and payroll, Isiah has to go now to at least save some face. Unfortunately we are at a crucial juncture in the season with the trading deadline rapidly approaching and teams looking to make moves.

    I think Qyntel wasn’t too bad the other night, he maybe has some promise, but agree that Ariza should be getting more time, unless we can package him along with Penny and get Darius Miles or something, I think he’d fit in well at the 3.

    Any way you look at it this season is going from bad to worse and whilst I can’t give up on the Knicks now the future looks bleak with our lack of future draft picks. Whilst next year’s draft is weak, the following one is predicted to be the strongest in years and Chicago is going to get our pick that year. On the other hand, we are still a relatively new team and perhaps just need more time to gel and are maybe only one move away from being a solid team. I guess only time will tell, but no, I don’t think Isiah’s the man to have at the helm.

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  4. The issue with admitting that we are rebuilding is that, as KB addressed in an earlier post, today’s Knicks are the product of a kind of schizophrenic rebuilding process that Isiah has undertaken for several years now. With future draft picks traded away, no salary cap freedom for awhile, and players like Richardson, James, Crawford, and Curry on the books until 2010, its safe to look at this team as the end product of Thomas’ vision. Unlike the Babcock situation (who leaves a number of expiring contracts in 2007, draft picks, and cap room for a big free agent signing) if Thomas does get the axe, he will have handcuffed his successor for the next few years.

    Also, if Dolan does get rid of Thomas (which won’t happen until the Browns-Saunders case is either settled or goes to trial) you have to think that Marbury, with his close ties to Zeke, won’t be in NY for long.

  5. Re-building…how long should that last? Isn?t that what Thomas was brought in to do? At least that is what he has done. He has been rebuilding this team from the day he got here without much lasting success but it has only been two years. Personally I think he deserves a little more time (I stress a little). However, his job is now clearly in question and this might be the straw that breaks the camels back. But let?s not loose sight of what?s happening on the court. Right now the Knicks are very young and they are going through what young teams go through (on the court at least). I commented over at about the concerning comments made by LB about the rookies hitting the wall and struggling with confidence and the physical elements of the game. I think the question is can these kids grow and learn enough in the second half of the season to give us fans some hope despite the sad draft outlook?

  6. has isiah turned in a body of work that could get him fired? absolutely.

    but i think the key question that has to be answered when considering canning the front office is… can we do better?

    remember knick fans, this is not a desirable job. the kinds of guys who have the cache with the MSG brass to blow it up and start all over again have all turned the job down already, or have made it clear that the knicks needn’t bother to ask (see: chuck daley, phil jackson, jerry west). and, before anyone even brings it up, no organization has ever let larry brown loose with total authority on roster decision. i suspect that’s with good reason.

    as you state KB, thomas’s strength is the draft. his clear, unambiguous weakness is the cap and contracts. i’d much rather have that particular combo of strengths and weaknesses than its opposite (that was rob babcock).

    it seems to me that an alternative, and most likely wiser, course of action here for the msg brass to do what the seattle seahawks did with mike holmgren a few years back. tighten the reigns financially, hire a cap guy, and force thomas to favor the draft.

    as for picks, the knicks do get the spurs’ first this year as per the rose trade, right?

  7. p.s.

    kb, i emailed you earlier today with an anti-hollinger rant about his take on the artest trade (he’s really getting on my nerves lately). it’s an almost bizarre coincidence that i hadn’t even read this piece before sending that email.

  8. it’s going to all work out ok. when examining the roster think about it in terms of, “what guys can you imagine playing on a championship team? what role would they play?”

    a best case scenario, a nine- or 10-man rotation might include:
    1. steph: scorer and distributor, controls the flow of the game (which he has done recently)
    2. quentin richardson: prototype 2-guard, deep threat, suprisingly effective in spots on defense
    3. qyntel woods: a little of everything at the 3-spot
    4. frye: a 20-8 guy in a couple years
    5. curry: another 20-8 guy, the most dominant low-post scorer in the league in a couple years
    6. crawford: quick scoring off the bench
    7. nate: energy guy off the bench, defensive pest on opposing team’s PG, clutch player, crowd energizer
    8. david lee: oakley-type off the bench
    9. jackie butler: solid backup at both big spots, in a couple years

    best case scenario, this rotation (which admittedly lacks a backup PG) could win 50 the year after next, as long as LB keeps coaching and young players continue to improve. worst case scenario, well we can all imagine what that looks like.

    this isn’t the team that i would have built if i was hired instead of zeke (i would have sucked, drafted, cleared cap), but i think this group has potential if they are left alone and allowed to gel.

    as far as a referendum on thomas, he’s lucky to be in this position. consider the state of the knicks if:
    1. LB hadn’t suddenly become available
    2. curry didn’t suddenly become available at a discount
    3. the warriors had decided to accept zeke’s trade offer for erick dampier

  9. You’re taking the salary cap situation out of context. First of all, Isiah was brought in to rebuild an overpaid, losing, veteran team without having the option of taking a step back or waiting for huge salaries to expire. I can’t think of one executive who’s managed to do that (Walsh, for example, rebuilt a veteran team, but they were winning). Furthermore, you fail to mention that about 75 million is coming off the cap over the next two seasons.

    This is a team with a lot of young talent. What are the chances that those players don’t improve over the next couple of years? Giving away draft picks hurts a lot less if young guys already on the roster start to break out.

    Isiah won’t be able to land anyone of any value in the mid to late first? I guess, I mean guys like Jermaine O’Neal and Tony Parker don’t have any value.

    It’s hard to criticize Zeke for dangling draft picks when that’s the only thing of any value, besides Sweetney and expiring contracts, that he inherited. Although I would agree that he’s been a bit too generous at times.

    It might be a little early to call Quentin Richardson bad. He’s been hurt and his brother was just shot dead. This appears to be a down year. He’s not great but this year has been painful.

    I would not call Qyntel a waste of time, Butler has also shown a lot of promise, and, although I was not a fan, the Mo Taylor deal is starting to look better.

  10. let’s not forget that allan houston could have contributed SOMETHING to this team as well.

  11. Does anyone know why David Lee has not gotten off the bench the last few days?

    How long ago was it that he was the flavor of the month?

    Especially against Philly a game that I drove to Philly to attend.

    The Knicks had no one out there to grab a board. Don’t you think that Lee would have been able to at least get some 2nd chance opportunities? I still think that they lose the game but all of a sudden Malik Rose is in the rotation and on Saturday Taylor just didn’t have it. So why not Lee ?

    Just seems like he was playing well and he was a high energy guy off the bench grabbing boards and poof he is gone.

  12. Yeah you’d think he’d be worth at least 10 mpg. Having said that, Woods looks pretty decent, I honestly think he could be a huge find.

    A Larry Brown find too, not Isiah’s.

  13. “Does anyone know why David Lee has not gotten off the bench the last few days?”

    I asked this a few days ago also, and since then I’ve only read a few random notes on it from NYK beat writers. Evidently all three rookies now, not just Frye, have hit the wall — mentally and physically exhausted.

    I follow the Knicks closely but not so much the rest of the league. And since the Knicks have not had a rookie play significant minutes since Mark Jackson sometime in the 1980s, I don’t really know how this works. Can we expect Frye and Co. to get a second wind? Will they come alive again after the all-star break?

    I was looking around the league and other rookies logging big minutes, like deron williams and charlie villanueva, have also fallen off some in january. (chris paul, however, is still going strong.)

    re: woods, i think the guy can play and could be a long term solution at SF, as long as they don’t expect him to be a bigtime scorer. national columnists bashed the move when zeke signed him, but could be awesome role player with the right pieces around him.

  14. Maybe its due to the fact that Lee has gotten low minutes and a lot of rest lately, but he didn’t look like he had hit the wall last night at Atlanta (8-11 for 18 pts including a nice ally-oop dunk in the fourth quarter). Much of this came in garbage time with the Knicks down 20+ though, as LB took out Curry and Marbury for the better part of the second half, going with Robinson/Crawford/Lee/Frye/Butler.

  15. I realize that turnovers/possessions may be a more effective stat with respect to turnover rate, but 23(!!!) Knicks team turnovers to Atlanta’s 11 is just terrible. The Knicks’ turnovers/game is highest in the league (17.4). On, their turnovers break down like this:
    Knicks Opponent
    Off. Foul 145 109
    Bad Pass 300 260
    Ball Handling 263 241
    Other 39 23

    This team just looks like they have stopped trying altogether. After the worst team in the league scored 23 points higher than their average ppg, I think Kobe has the moxie to break 70.

  16. While hindsight is 20/20, this was slightly obvious at the time but the Knicks should have used their Houston rights on James. how ironic would that have been.

  17. is quentin richardson injured? what the hell is going on with him? the guy has done with thing since he came into the league five years ago — put the ball in the hoop. now, he’s shooting 35 percent.

    any insight? i don’t think guys just forget how to shoot, and slumps don’t last 42 games.

  18. I think he has a bad back. I think that’s half the reason Phoenix ditched him. I mean you’re right, he averaged 17ppg and 6rpg in his last year in LA, then drilled 226 3-pointers last year (including 7 against the Knicks one night!).

    That’s why no one would insure his back either. Obviously it doesn’t appear bad enough to stop him playing but seems to limit him. Otherwise his brother got shot, relationship issues with Brandy, NY nightlife…its probably been a crazy time for him.

  19. Q’s obviously going through a lot of personal problems, but he isn’t doing anyone any favors by playing.

    Watching him play the Hawks, his poor decision making led to about 10 easy points for the Hawks, just in the 3rd quarter. He looks scared to shoot threes, he’s bricking most of them, turning over the ball, his defense still sucks despite his increased effort, and he isn’t doing that little devil horn thing anymore…it doesn’t look anything like the Q that we saw last season.

    Best wishes to him and his family, but that Kurt Thomas trade is looking worse and worse by the day.

    Don’t even start with me about Nate…dunk dunk dunk, yeah yeah yeah. When’s the last time he actually made one of those stupid attempts…in a game??? At this point, I would be happy if Isiah traded him for Tyronne Lue with another future draft pick…and you know he’s just going to embarass himself at the dunk contest.

  20. I think Isiah needs more control of the franchise. He clearly has been handcuffed so far. I would recommend the Knicks take off the shackles and let the man work his magic!

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