Isiah Thomas reminds me of Felix Unger. The Odd Couple character’s downfall was that he couldn’t leave well enough alone. Nearly every episode had Unger ruining his life because his compulsive nature forced him to go too far. Last night, Isiah traded for the Bulls’ disgruntled center Eddy Curry. Chicago had been looking to move Curry since he pulled his Redd Foxx act during last year’s playoffs. Thomas traded away the Knicks young power forward Mike Sweetney along with Tim Thomas and garbage time specialist Jermaine Jackson along with two picks, which have yet to be disclosed.
The only way to like this deal is if physique is your only criteria on building a basketball team. Of the two, Sweetney is the one more likely to be confused as a Sumo wrestler. But for those who’ve watched their fair share of Knick games last year, Sweetney used his body in the paint to his advantage, tossing opponents like, well, a sumo wrestler. An excellent rebounder, he used his size, reach, and footwork to pull down rebound after rebound, often tipping them to himself when fighting against taller opponents. On the offensive end, when he received the ball under the hoop, there often seemed to be only two options: an easy field goal or a trip to the foul line.
However going into next year with the third year player as the starting forward wasn’t good enough for Isiah. Thomas insists on building the team in his “younger and more athletic” mold. Curry certainly fits that bill, just like outgoing Tim Thomas did. However it’s arguable whether or not Eddy is the better player on the court.
Name FG% PSA USG RBR R/40 TO PF PER Sweetney 52.2 1.16 17.6 16.8 11.5 2.7 5.6 16.6 E. Curry 52.9 1.13 21.2 11.8 8.5 3.3 5.1 15.8
They score at about the same rate, although Curry’s usage rate is higher. That could be because the offensively challenged Bulls leaned on Eddy, while the Knicks never featured Sweetney in the half court set. The turnover numbers and foul numbers are close enough to even out. However despite giving up 3 inches and 10 pounds, Sweetney’s rebounding numbers puts Curry to shame. Using John Hollinger’s rebounding rate, Sweetney ranked 20th last year in the league ahead of such luminaries as Yao Ming, Zach Randolph, Shawn Marion, and Elton Brand. In fact within the last year Isiah Thomas has traded two of the top 20, with Nazr Mohammed showing up at #11 on that list.
If Knick fans are looking for a silver lining on this deal, it won’t be Curry’s defense. While Chicago was one of the top defensive teams last season, the Knicks didn’t get the defensive stalwart of the Bulls frontcourt. According to 82games.com, the Bulls were 3.3 points worse with Curry on the floor, although he did keep opposing centers in check with a 13.3 oPER. Last year those numbers were 2.7 and 13.8. Dan Rosenbaum rated Curry as the 5th worst defensive center in the league while Matt from Bulls Blog, now over at BlogABull.com, said Curry won’t help the “Knicks’ awful help defense.”
In fact in that column, which was written almost a year ago, Matt hit the nail on the head:
Another observation was laughing at the Knicks’ awful help defense. Curry won’t help there, but sometimes Isiah sees something shiny around the league and must have it. After my initial look at Sweetney (and I would really like to hear a Knicks’ fan’s perspective), I’m starting to hope that Isiah gets his man.
Isiah’s obsession with other team’s players has led him to acquire guys like Jamal Crawford, Jerome James, Tim Thomas, and now Curry. Jerome James came from a playoff team, but since he barely played, his contribution to their success was dubious. The 2004 Bulls won 23 games, and Isiah has 3 of their starters (including Antontio Davis)on his roster. Do these sound like the players you would be targeting if you were a GM?
The only positive is Curry’s arrival means the Knicks no longer have to worry about being undersized at the 5, but it comes at a heavy price. While I have no illusions that Sweetney would be enshrined in Springfield, he’ll be an above average starting power forward in this league. Additionally, the supposedly still rebuilding Knicks have given up some future considerations in the form of draft picks. Meanwhile, the Knicks will pay Curry $60M over 6 years. I usually don’t like to deal in hypotheticals, but it’s logical to assume the Knicks could have gotten Sweetney to sign for half that. Sweetney would have given the Knicks about the same amount of production (albeit at a different position) for half the price & New York wouldn’t have to worry if his heart will hold up under the Gotham media.
Isiah’s fault seems to be his inability to stay the course. One minute the Knicks are rebuilding, the next they’re spending $90M dollars for two centers with dubious histories. At the last trade deadline the Knicks were stock piling draft picks like a Central Park squirrel in fall, but now Isiah may have given away two for Curry.
Marbury is still an offensive force, while second rounder Trevor Ariza has flashed great potential. Nate Robinson dominated the summer league, and could be Isiah’s second steal in a row. Additionally, the Knicks have two more youngsters in Frye & Lee. Coach Larry Brown is one of the best in the business. If Isiah stopped there, New York would be in great shape to start the season. Instead, he’s bogged down the team with bad contracts. Eddy Curry, Quentin Richardson, Jamal Crawford, and Jerome James will reportedly cost the Knicks over $180M for the next 5-7 years. That will undoubtedly make the Knicks observers in free agency over that time. The worst part about it is that none of those players are worth it. None are locks to even make a single All Star Appearance. With the salary cap, it’s better to underpay for marginal talent than overpay for an average return. New York’s downfall will be Isiah’s inability to sign cheap talent and leave well enough alone.