“Damnit! Are you kidding me?” I yelled, at no one in particular.
“What happened?” my wife, bless her tolerant soul, bellowed back from the kitchen.
“The Knicks are signing Mike Bibby.”
“Who’s Mike Bibby?”
“You remember that guy on the Heat last year you said was scary looking?”
“Who, Bosh? You mean Bosh?”
“No, Mike Bibby. Nosferatu? The deeply sunken eyes?”
“Oh… right. I’m sorry, honey.”
Now, for the record, I personally don’t find Mike Bibby to be scary looking. Still, I couldn’t help but cringe at the thought of signing a guy who — forgetting for a second his best days being a near decade behind him — had just come off a disastrous stint with the loathed Miami Heat. It just reeked of bad mojo, pure and simple.
But to hear — or read — the reaction to Saturday’s news that the Knicks had signed the 33-year-old guard to a one year, veteran’s minimum deal ($1.4 million, it’s believed), you’d think the Knicks had tendered Hannibal Lecter to a max contract and a 50% stake in CableVision. Such was the level of vitriol and caustic hand-wringing levied at a transaction which, in the financial scheme of things, posed less of a roster risk than a footwear change.
Don’t believe me? Check out some of the tweets from the past 48 hours:
@ChicoBonds: Oh God no. #mikebibby
@JADubin5: Mike Bibby? Didn’t he retire like 3 years ago?
@smokeybarzz Why Mike Bibby? that [expletive] old and cant hit a 3 worth [expletive]! The Knicks Good Without Him
@problem2071 Why the hell would anyone sign Mike Bibby he looked ancient last year!
@MaYbaChMaV: Why are the #NYKnicks tryin to get #BumAss [editor's note: that's just a fantastic hashtag] #MikeBibby?
@KnickzFan696969: MIKE BIBBY? MORE LIKE TYKE BABY AMIRITE!?!?!?
Ok I made that last one up. But you get the gist.
Of course, a big part of the Bibby anxiety stems from the towering question mark that is the squad’s point guard position. With Chauncey Billups having been rather loudly shipped out of town via the infant CBA’s amnesty clause, all eyes have fallen to the doubtless improved but still unproven Toney Douglas — now the longest-tenured Knick, entering his third year — as the heir apparent at the point. Aside from that, prior to the Bibby signing the only other roster-slated player with experience at the one was rookie Iman Shumpert, a player who most see as being cut more from the combo mold.
After being dealt by the Hawks at last season’s trade deadline, Bibby was unceremoniously waived by the Wizards. Five days later, Bibby accepted a one-year deal from a Heat team dealing with its own dearth of back court reliables. For a while, it seemed like an ideal fit: During 22 regular season games, Bibby registered a healthy TS% of 60%, including a blistering %46 from behind the arc. Of course, when you have arguably two of the three best wings in the game in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade drawing a majority of the defensive focus, you’re liable to get your share of clean looks from yonder. And during the regular season home stretch, where he averaged close to 27 minutes a game, most of them as a starter, Bibby made the most of them.
Then the Playoffs happened. During the Heat’s 20 postseason games, Bibby’s playing time plummeted as vociferously as his aim. With Mario Chalmers gradually usurping the onetime number two draft pick’s PT, Bibby’s TS% cratered to 37%; his 3p% to below 26%. And though his regular season WP/48 of 0.084 hadn’t exactly set the world on fire, Bibby’s playoff mark (-0.029) reflected an alarming fall from serviceable cog to full-fledged liability — particularly on the defensive end, where he’s gained something of a reputation as a hopeless sieve.
Not surprisingly, the Heat neglected to re-up on the aging Bibby at season’s end. Which — RUNNING AT A LOSS COMPETITIVE BALANCE PLAYER MOVEMENT ENORMOUS CONSEQUENCES MAKE A PROFIT BASKETBALL REASONS! — brings us to today. Clearly the Knicks have little to lose by taking what is, by all accounts, a necessary risk. What’s more, signing Bibby doesn’t preclude us from reeling in another vet — Baron Davis plz! — to help bolster our back court.
For all his atrophied talent, Bibby’s reputation as a positive, steady locker room presence has rarely, if ever, been questioned. Coupled with his own admission that he’d long dreamed of playing in Mike D’Antoni’s free-flowing system — a luxury Bibby hadn’t enjoyed since his halcyon days at the fore of Rick Adelman’s Kings teams –what you end up with is the definition of a low-risk, reward-unknown scenario. At the very least, Bibby is a stop-gap insurance policy guard. Against the backdrop of a condensed schedule, a just-healed Toney Douglas shoulder, and roster unknowns abound, that kind of veteran presence is all but necessary.
So what should we expect from Bibby this year? Obviously, a lot hinges on the development of Douglas and Shumpert, and what cards the Knick brass still have sleeve-hidden for the home stretch of what has already been — in all its abbreviated glory — a truly bananas free agency period. With less than two weeks before our Yuletide showdown against the Celtics, the Knicks will be under the gun to fill out the roster and get as many bodies into camp as possible.
Regardless, it’s hard to believe D’Antoni would be looking for anything more than 10 or so minutes a game from what will essentially be the team’s fourth or fifth guard. Given the right lineup (i.e. if paired with the more defense-oriented Douglas or Shumpert), Bibby could easily reprise his role with the Heat: An effective spot-up shooter capable of working off the team’s stars. If he can do that — and do it at something resembling a consistent clip — the Knicks will have more than gotten their Dolan Dollars’ worth.
During yesterday’s contract signing, Bibby announced he’d be sporting number 20 for the upcoming season. On its face, the chosen numeral bears little significance, beyond the fact that Mike was born three years after his father Henry — who wore #17 — played his last game as Knick in 1974.
As a rookie the year previous, however, Henry came off the bench for the last Knick title team. Recognizing as he must his own career’s flickering twilight, it only seems appropriate that Mike — title starved since his brilliant Freshman campaign at the helm of the ’97 Arizona National Ttile squad — would want to end his career right where his father’s began. With a little bit of luck, closing that loop might soon mean one more ring on the family mantle.