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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Breaking Down the Knicks Deadline Deals? A Little More

[Today's column was written by David Crockett, who has been taking note of the wild trade action, creating a new frontier on the NBA landscape. (You must be this old to get that joke.) David is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, and can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com]

At the trade deadline the Knicks consummated two separate deals. If you?ve not had an opportunity to read the Knickerblogger?s excellent breakdown of the deals please do so. He does an especially good job of debunking the knee-jerk media tendency to ignore the importance of draft picks in deadline deals.

At the risk of putting words into his virtual mouth, he basically argues that the Knicks are in the seventh layer of salary cap hell until 2007 irrespective of what they do primarily because of Houston?s contract (KB: that’s exactly what I was arguing). Consequently, he argues, the amount by which the Knicks exceed the cap threshold is irrelevant as a strategic matter, at least it is until Houston comes off the cap in summer ?07. If the Knicks wish to rebuild with young players and/or draft picks other teams will assuredly demand a premium; either the Knick?s young players or cap relief.

Given this, the real wisdom in taking on a given contract lies in its implications for financial flexibility at the beginning of the 2007-2008 season (i.e., when Houston comes off the books). Prior to that Marbury?s and Houston?s pacts will keep the team hopelessly above the cap. (A nice salary breakdown per season can be found here.) Of course the other piece to the puzzle is the roster construction.

So let?s take an even closer look at the two deadline deals from both a financial and a roster construction perspective.

Deal 1
? The Knicks Receive: Malik Rose, PF, 2005 first round draft choice (SA via Pho), and 2006 first round draft choice
? The Spurs Receive: Nazr Mohammed, C, Jamison Brewer, G

Financially, the Knicks have replaced Mohammed?s short, reasonable deal with Rose?s considerably longer, less cap-friendly deal. Rose enters the final year of his deal, which pays him $7.1 million, just as the Knicks get out from under Houston?s mega-deal. By then I expect Rose?s current 15.5 PER to have shrunk considerably, right along with his market value. I think it?s reasonable to anticipate that, short of a buyout, Rose is in NY for the duration of his deal. Clearly, this is the bitter pill Thomas was willing to swallow for the two first round picks.

What might those picks turn into? Obviously, there?s no way to characterize future picks as anything other than a gamble. Yet there is no risk-free way to acquire talent prior to its prime. One way we might consider the value of the 2005 draft (New York?s own lottery pick paired with the pick coming from San Antonio through Phoenix) is by look at the past few drafts. I was not at all sold on the wisdom of this deal until I went back and looked at who was drafted in the spots where New York?s and Phoenix?s picks would land based on record (i.e., 6th and 29th overall as of this writing).

A glance back at 6th and the next-to-last players drafted in round 1 from 2000-2004 might make Isiah?s decision to pull the trigger on this deal easier to understand, even at the price of Rose?s contract. (Recall that the first round only had 28 picks total until 2003.)

2004 ? Josh Childress, Atlanta; David Harrison, Indiana (Luol Deng #7, Chicago)
2003 ? Chris Kaman, Clippers; Josh Howard, Dallas
2002 ? Dejuan Wagner, Cleveland; Chris Jeffries, Lakers (Nene #7, Wilcox #8, Stoudamire #9)
2001 ? Shane Battier, Mem; Jamal Tinsley, Atlanta (Tony Parker #28)
2000 ? DeMarr Johnson, Atlanta; Erick Barkley, Portland (Mark Madsen #29)

So really, the question is how wise was it to swap Mohammed?s contract for two additional (slightly more expensive) years of Rose and a two-in-five shot at Kaman/Howard or Battier/Tinsley? Framed this way the deal looks like a pretty reasonable gamble. Consider also that this is purely a deadline deal; no way does San Antonio consummates this deal during the off-season. San Antonio doesn?t need Phoenix?s 2005 or its own 2006 pick, but they could demand a much greater premium for them on draft night than Nazr Mohammed and Jamison Brewer. They could easily trade for future picks or draft some European teenager and keep his rights.

Even though the picks will be towards the end of the round the cap makes it prohibitive to have two lottery picks in consecutive seasons anyway. Also, the Knicks may be able to package the pair to target a specific player. Isiah?s thinking here is shrewd because he?s taking most of the bitter medicine now while the team is well over the cap anyway, with an eye toward 2007-2008 when he?ll have maturing young talent and money coming off the cap.

Deal 2
? The Knicks Receive: Maurice Taylor, PF
? The Rockets Receive: Moochie Norris, G, Vin Baker, F, and 2006 second round draft choice.

Much like the Knickerblogger I think had Isiah stopped with the previous deal I?d be pretty darned happy with things. Unfortunately, just like last season Zeke has a knack for making one deal too many; one that will eventually cost him something to undo. My impression is that I?m a bit more leery about the impact of this deal than is the Knickerblogger. Two things about it really bother me well beyond their curious nature.

First, what need does Mo Taylor address? Surely, the role of overpaid, undersized power forward has now been amply filled by Rose for the foreseeable future. Even anticipating an off-season move involving one or more of the Knick forwards, the Knicks are well-stocked at the position. Taylor is a worse rebounder than Tim Thomas, who at least shoots a high % from 3 point range. Taylor doesn?t defend; his 19 oPER is Moochie Norris bad. Worst, Taylor is expensive at over $9million per, meaning he?s not likely to be more valuable nor converted into anything more valuable than what NY gave up to get him.

Second, Taylor further skews an already unbalanced roster into a dangerously guard-light roster. The team now has no third guard and no true third small forward, but has 5 capable power forwards. This is not just an aesthetics problem. The Knicks simply cannot afford for Hardaway or Crawford to be injured again this season. They would have to sign a guard off the street. Moving both Norris and Brewer without getting at least an emergency guard in return is just silly; worse yet, it may be expensive. New York is virtually guaranteed to enter the off-season, if not before, desperate for a third guard. As a consequence Thomas will almost assuredly pay a premium unless he drafts one. There?s no way the Knicks can go into next season carrying only two guards, and every GM in the league knows this. Had the Knicks thrown in Sundov and cash for Reece Gaines this deal would have still been superfluous but at least not innately harmful. As it stands this deal makes zero sense on any dimension ? financial, performance, or roster balance.