Lots of Stuff From the Beat

Lots of good info from the Knicks’ beat writers. Whoda thunk a 1-9 team with no draft pick and no game for a few days would merit so much good ink?

First, Newsday’s Alan Hahn nails it with “Knicks had to get it right, and didn’t”.

Meanwhile, Donnie Walsh and his staff had to get this draft pick right. Not only because of how valuable a lottery pick can be to a rebuilding franchise, but because the team doesn’t have a first round pick in2010. Every criteria had to be exhausted when considering all of the draft candidates at No. 8 and that includes character.

A kid that shows up at his first NBA Summer League admittedly not in great shape, to me, shows major character flaws. How much does he want it? How much does he care?

There are two kinds of players in the NBA: those who love basketball and those who love the life. One goes to the gym at night and puts up shots. The other goes to the club and puts down shots and sweats.

You feel me?

With the No. 8 pick in the draft, you try your best to get the first kind. Or at least one who has the tendencies to be the first kind.

So the fair criticism right now is to analyze the decision the Knicks made to take the not-yet-ready Hill and leave Jennings and Ty Lawson, two dynamic guards, on the board.

And where are the other scouts who should have been aware of Jennings even before he left for Europe? Was there enough of a debate in the War Room that night as the Knicks were on the clock and had gotten over losing Stephen Curry to the Warriors?

Curry topped the list and, despite his mercurial start with Dysfunction State, would have been the best fit. Tyreke Evans was also high on the list, I’m told, and yet it’s interesting that Jennings had his pre-draft workout for the Knicks against the much bigger Evans and, from what I’ve heard, he really took it to Evans. I remember Jennings walking out of the gym feeling very confident in himself that day.


Lawson, the Carolina product who we touted here at the Fix as early as the 2008 draft, was also up at the MSG Training Center in June for a pre-draft workout. Walsh really liked Lawson but, again, size (5-11, 195) was a major issue. And the other question was whether Lawson was a top 10 pick. Almost everyone had him projected in the teens and that’s exactly where he went. Denver traded an unprotected 2014 first-rounder to land him from Minnesota, which took him at No. 18.

Lots of good points here. The significance of the 2009 draft, and a little bit of why the Knicks passed on Lawson & Jennings. Additionally Hahn takes the Knicks to task for not knowing Hill’s motor (or apparent lack thereof).

Berman gets a good quote from Walsh:

Knicks team president Donnie Walsh told The Post yesterday the club’s franchise-worst 1-9 start is his fault and no one else’s, taking the heat off coach Mike D’Antoni.
The Knicks, who had the day off from practice yesterday, don’t play again until Wednesday in Indiana and have to marinate in the shame of being the first Knicks team to start a season 1-9. The franchise dawned in 1946.
“I’m not blaming the players, not blaming the coaches, I’m not blaming anyone but myself,” Walsh told The Post. “I feel this is my responsibility more than Mike’s or the players. Maybe the team doesn’t have all the elements.”

Hmmm blaming the front office for this start – where have I heard that before?

The Daily News, courtesy of Mitch Lawrence, give some insight into D’Antoni’s practice.

The New York Zombies, er, Knicks, returned to the practice floor Sunday in Greenburgh, with Eddy Curry taking a step toward returning to action this week and Wilson Chandler accepting a potential demotion to a bench role.

Curry could see his first action of the season Wednesday in Indiana. Mike D’Antoni, who called his players “zombies” after it went through the motions Friday in a loss to Golden State, isn’t sure how many minutes Curry will get against the Pacers.

His plan is to give Curry some minutes in the first half, then see if he merits more action. “Given that (D’Antoni’s) system is based on running, it’s definitely hard,” Curry said. “But I think I’m catching on and he is being very patient with me.”

But it appears that D’Antoni has run out of patience with Chandler, who has started the first 10 games, first at guard and more recently at forward. A demotion would mark a setback for both Chandler and the Knicks. D’Antoni has said a number of times that one of his primary objectives this season is to develop his top young players, starting with Danilo Gallinari and Chandler.

Yesterday, D’Antoni concentrated on defense, with Jared Jeffries, a reserve since the fourth game of the season, working with the first team and Chandler a second-teamer. As for Chandler’s move to the bench, D’Antoni wasn’t ready to announce it. “We’re still searching a little bit,” he said. “We don’t know yet, to be honest with you.”

With the Knicks offense reeling, seems like a great idea to get Jared Jeffries into the starting lineup. Maybe New York can grab Bruce Bowen to help light it up too? With a lineup of Duhon, Bowen, and Jeffries, you could have Barkley and Shaq as the 4/5, and still not break 100 points.

2009 Report Card: Donnie Walsh

It was with fanfare befitting a peaceful transfer of power from despotism to enlightenment that Donnie Walsh inherited Isiah Thomas’ job as New York Knicks president of basketball operations in the spring of 2008.  But as with so many European monarchs, African generals, and Spinal Tap drummers before him, the excitement surrounding Walsh’s arrival soon gave way, at least in part, to the grim realization that the pitfalls of previous years had not all departed with his predecessor.  An impossible cap situation, a meddling owner, and a frequently unmotivated core of players were all holdovers from the Isiah era which Walsh has been forced to address, with varying degrees of success.

Walsh’s first Knicks team finished with a record of 32-50, worse than three of the five Knicks squads that Isiah oversaw.  But Walsh’s job was never about 2009 and, unlike Isiah, he immediately proved willing to accept that short term failure was a necessary and acceptable side effect of true progress.  To this end, it is undeniable that the poker-faced Bronx native has moved a dysfunctional franchise in the right direction, but his advances have not come without missteps.  That these mistakes have come with little popular backlash is cause for gratitude to Isiah – critics of Walsh would be far more vocal had his hiring not come on the heels of such unmitigated failure.

If Walsh’s patience and indecipherability are his greatest qualities in negotiation, they may also be his best assets in avoiding the kind of criticism that is typicaly heaped upon New York pro sports executives by media and fans.  His stern demeanor and unshakable calm suggest to observers, even at moments of seeming misjudgment, that he knows more about the situation than they do and so deserves their trust.  A move-by-move analysis of Walsh’s Knicks tenure reveals a well-reasoned overall plan that has been tarnished by some truly baffling decisions.  With the belief that the moves a general manager doesn’t make are as important as the moves he does make, I offer this chronological assessment of Walsh’s first season-plus on the job:

May 10, 2008: In his first, and thus far best, major move as Knicks president, Walsh signed Phoenix Suns coach Mike D’Antoni to a 4-year, $24 million contract.  D’Antoni’s hiring has resonated with fans (seen in the sense of pride that came with a prized coaching commodity choosing the Knicks over a handful of other suitors, as well as the entertaining brand of basketball to which they are treated each night), Knicks players (seen in the career years put up by David Lee, Al Harrington, Nate Robinson, Wilson Chandler, and, for the first 50 games, Chris Duhon), and players around the league (D’Antoni’s relationship with soon-to-be-max-contract-signers LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Kobe Bryant may prove to be his most important asset as the Knicks’ coach).

Grade: A, and if LeBron’s affection for D’Antoni leads him to New York, it becomes an A-plus.

Draft Night, 2008: With the sixth pick, Walsh chose Danilo Gallinari, whose struggles with back trouble and flashes of promise have both been well-chronicled on this and other sites.  While the jury remains out on Gallo, we have a better idea about some of the guys Walsh could have taken.  Of the lottery picks remaining on the board at #6, Eric Gordon (chosen 7th, 14.98 rookie PER), Brook Lopez (chosen 10th, 17.94 rookie PER), and Anthony Randolph (chosen 14th, 16.94 rookie PER and an absolute monster of a summer league) have looked the most promising thus far.

However, simply lining Gallo up against these three doesn’t quite create a proper lens for evaluating Walsh’s choice.  Looking back through Chad Ford’s archives reminds us that Gordon and Joe Alexander (chosen  8th, 10.19 rookie PER) were the two most likely Knicks picks had they passed on Gallinari, and the early returns suggest that Walsh may have dodged a bullet by passing on Alexander’s unique, but extremely raw, skill set.

Grade: C-plus.  We all love Gallo and it’s tempting to give Walsh an incomplete here.  It’s also probably unfair to criticize Walsh for passing on Lopez and Randolph, as the former was universally regarded as low on upside and the latter as a potential bust.  Still, it’s impossible to ignore how well Gordon, Randolph, and Lopez would all fit into D’Antoni’s system, and one would be hard pressed to find a non-Knicks fan who would put an unproven 21-year-old who already has back problems on the same level as any of these three.  I think there are decent odds Gallinari will prove this grade wrong but at the moment this looks like an OK, but not great, pick.

July 4, 2008: Walsh signed former Bulls PG Chris Duhon to a 2 year contract at the full mid-level ($12 million).  The price tag here looks high now, given the lower salaries being handed out this offseason and the incredibly frustrating second half to Duhon’s 2008-09 season.  Still, the Knicks have never minded paying out  luxury tax dollars and Walsh brought in a point guard who generally stays out of his own way and makes his teammates better on the offensive end.  If Duhon’s ability to create easy baskets can turn Curry into a tradable commodity this season (it’s a long shot, but hey, a guy can hope), it becomes a great signing.  Until then, Duhon is a player who doesn’t set his team back on the court, creates reps for a young core in need of development, and doesn’t set the franchise back in its hunt for prime talent in 2010.  Pretty good move for the mid-level in a lackluster free agent summer.

Grade: B.

November 21, 2008: Walsh put on his Kevin Pritchard hat for a day and swung two trades that cleared up $27 million in 2010 cap room.  In sending Zach Randolph to the Clippers and Jamal Crawford to the Warriors in exchange for a useful forward in Al Harrington, a useless forward in Tim Thomas, and a soon-to-retire combo guard in Cuttino Mobley, Walsh dismantled the slim playoff hopes of what was then an above-.500 team.  More importantly, however, he overhauled the team’s long term cap position, picked up a trade chip in Mobley’s tax-free contract, and rid the team of two shoot-first players who were almost certainly stunting the development of their younger, more promising counterparts.   A complete no-brainer.

Grade: A-minus.  It’s a move any good GM would have made if it was available but, what can I say, it’s a good career move to succeed Isiah.

February 19, 2009: An unstoppable force (the Bulls’ desire to trade Larry Hughes) met an immovable object (Jerome James’ contract) and the unstoppable force won as the Knicks flipped James and Tim Thomas for Hughes.  Largely seen as a garbage for garbage deal, the move was supposed to make the Knicks slightly better in the short run without helping or hurting their long-term cap situation and, mainly, sparing their fans the nightly sight of James smiling and joking around on the end of the bench during 20-point losses.  A mostly useless move in the long run and maybe a net negative, as Hughes took some minute that would likely have gone to Nate and Chandler otherwise.  Hughes also brought back some of the poor shot selection and general grumpiness that had mostly departed with Crawford and Stephon Marbury, respectively.  In the end, the trade’s impact, positive or negative, was minimal and we stopped having to listen to Jerome James jokes.

Grade: C (in a one-credit class with little effect on overall GPA).

Trade Deadline, 2009: The Knicks engaged in a well-chronicled negotiation with the Sacramento Kings, who asked for Nate Robinson and Jared Jeffries in exchange for Kenny Thomas’ soon-to-expire contract.  With the Knicks still loosely in playoff contention, Walsh turned down the offer and chose not to rid himself of the nearly $7 million committed to Jeffries in 2010.  A puzzling, disturbingly Isiah-esque move whose questionability has been compounded by the complete disinterest that Walsh has displayed in re-signing Nate this offseason.  If Robinson is truly so expendable, and it’s likely he is, then why endanger the future for only a few months of his services?  This inaction made little sense at the time and makes even less sense now.

Grade: D-minus.

2009 Draft, Lead-up: Another instance in which Walsh seemed to contradict his general mission statement of financial flexibility, as he reportedly rejected an offer of the #5 pick and some expiring contracts for Wilson Chandler, Jeffries, and Hughes.  This rumor always seemed a bit sketchy from the Wizards’ side, but if this offer was truly on the table, I can’t imagine Walsh’s resistance to it.  Trading Jeffries is a desirable goal, Hughes has no long-term value, and Chandler, while a promising young player, is more likely than not to become an effective wing who is generally indistinguishable from any number of other small forwards in the league.  The negligible , if even existent, talent drop off from Chandler to the #5 pick in the draft (which turned out to be Ricky Rubio, though no one would have guessed it at the time) seemed a small price to pay for the disposal of a considerable financial obstacle.

Grade: D.  It’s worth noting that a few different versions of this trade were bouncing around during draft week, some of which would have been less of a windfall for the Knicks.  None of them, however, seemed particularly logical to reject as the Wizards displayed genuine interest in both Jeffries and Hughes.

Draft Night, 2009: Walsh played the hand he was dealt at #8, picking Jordan Hill after watching Rubio and Stephen Curry disappear in rapid succession.  An uninspiring, but far from disastrous, summer league performance has left Hill as a general mystery to Knicks fans at this point, but he’s big and athletic and he got enough numbers in college (although his FG% leaves something to be desired, considering his layup-and-dunk-heavy shot selection) to suggest that he’ll be a useful role player at the worst.  Walsh’s bigger coup on draft night was the effective purchase of Toney Douglas’s draft rights from the Lakers, just the kind of low-risk, solid-upside maneuver that the Knicks never seem to make.  If Douglas develops into a serviceable back-up point guard with a jump shot and an above average defensive skill set, which seems likely, this pick is a success.

In a final draft night move, Walsh acquired Darko Milicic from the Grizzlies by sending Quentin Richardson off on the first leg of his summer-long tour of NBA mediocrity.  Another low-risk move that might suit D’Antoni’s system well.  Given what he had to work with, a sound if unspectacular draft night for Walsh.

Grade: B-plus for draft night in a vacuum.  However, if you consider that Walsh could have had Rubio or Curry at five had he made the Wizards trade, it’s a C-minus.

Free Agency, 2009: I don’t know.  Do you?  I think Walsh was right not to pay for Iverson.  I would have loved a year or two of Nash at the mid-level, but I get the feeling that was never as close to a reality as we all were hoping.

If Walsh wins his ongoing staring contest with Ramon Sessions (17.65 PER, 23 years old) and signs him for two years at a low 2010 cap number, it will be a way better long-term move than signing Jason Kidd (16.95 PER, 36 years old) would have been, as the Knicks will acquire a young, affordable point guard who can defer to his teammates and can wait until after the Knicks make their big free agent splash to receive his long-term payout.

Additionally, Walsh has done well not to give in to unrealistic demands by either Lee or Robinson in a depressed market, but until their situations are resolved (ideally with Nate walking or taking a cheap one-year deal and Lee staying on for something near the mid-level), it’s hard to get a read on Walsh’s current plan or his level of confidence in the LeBron/Wade/Bosh sweepstakes next offseason.

Grade: Incomplete.

All told, Walsh’s tenure got off to a promising start but has suffered from several moments of seeming hesitance to take the final plunge and commit to any one comprehensive strategy.  Walsh has clearly leaned toward building for the future at the expense of the present, which is a welcome change from the Isiah era, but his unwillingness to part with anyone of value as a pot-sweetener in the unloading of bad contracts has stunted the Knicks progress toward an ideal 2010 cap situation.  As it stands, the team has a top-flight coach and more young talent and long-term financial flexibility than anyone could have realistically expected 16 months ago.  But one worries that Walsh has hedged his bets a bit too much and will fall short of a free agent jackpot next summer.

Overall Grade: B

Knicks Draft Hill/Douglas

In the 2009 draft, it seemed as if the stars would align for New York. Rubio was passed over for the first 4 picks, and it seemed he might drop to the Knicks. But Minnesota snapped him up with the 5th pick. At that point it appeared that the Timberwolves would be done with taking point guards, but they grabbed Syracuse’s Flynn with the following selection. All that stood between New York and Stephen Curry were the Golden State Warriors. Clearly they didn’t need a guard, especially with 6’3 Monta Ellis signed to a lucrative $66M deal. However the Warriors grabbed Curry with the #7 pick, giving them a 6’3 backcourt for 2010. New York’s dreams of either Rubio, Evans, or Curry were not to be.

But the oddities didn’t end there. The Knicks, in desperate need of a guard, took 6-11 forward Jordan Hill with the 8th pick. New Yorkers seemed stunned by the move. Some of the non-profanity laced comments from the KnickerBlogger chat session from draft night:

Lee: lock your doors.. we may have a riot.
Thomas B: Even stern was like..wait what?
Dan Panorama: listen to the boos!
BigBlueAL: Channing Frye part 2
Owen: There goes David Lee
Dan Panorama: no one wants jordan hill, who would we even trade him for???
Thomas B: Okay when the 1st thing you say is wingspan…..
jon abbey: there had better be a trade in the works
Brian Cronin: this is so not cool

At this time it’s unknown if New York will keep Hill. The Timberwolves selected point guards in back to back picks (Rubio, Flynn), so it’s possible that a trade might be in thw works. New York can’t officially trade either Lee or Robinson until the first week of July when the veil lifts on restricted free agents. It’s possible that Hill was selected for another team, in a trade that will be announced in the coming days.

From all accounts, Hill appears to be an energy big man, who has an unpolished offensive game. He can rebound and block shots, both things that are needed by New York. However Hill was rated poorly by two statistical studies. Hollinger had Hill in his disappointment section, noting:

The other big surprise down here is Jordan Hill, who could go as high as No. 4 but rates 26th in the Draft Rater. Hill had solid rebounding and scoring numbers, but his percentages weren’t off the charts, and his poor assist and turnover numbers were a red flag. Although one might think that ballhandling categories wouldn’t matter for a power forward, apparently they do — pure point rating (a measure of how a player passes and handles the ball) is a pretty strong success indicator for frontcourt players, and only four prospects rated worse than Hill.

While Ed Weiland’s words were just as unkind:

…Hill just doesn’t look like anything more than a career journeyman. There is some good stuff in his career. I like that he shot over 60% his first two seasons. I like that his rebound rate has consistently improved. I like that he destroyed both Cole Aldrich and Josh Heytvelt in head-to-head matchups this year. I don’t like that he can’t get his SB40 over 3.0. This is something that even the rawest of top PF prospects should be able to do. I don’t like that his team was so ordinary despite featuring two first round draftees. What bothers me the most is his .537 2-point pct. this year when he became a top scoring option. History simply hasn’t been kind to such players. I feel any team drafting Jordan Hill in the top 10 and expecting him to become something of a cornerstone will come to regret it. He looks like nothing more than a decent journeyman.

The Knicks first round didn’t end there. New York bought Los Angeles’ pick and took defensive minded guard Toney Douglas with the 29th pick. Again Hollinger was down on Douglas, ranking him 62nd among potential draftees. Weiland was a little more positive saying that “his defensive chops and the scoring ability he flashed this year, Douglas should be a lock to go later in round 1… When investing a 1st round pick after #20 in a weak draft a player like Douglas who meets all the important criteria on scoring, efficiency and defense seems like a better gamble than most.”

As I said earlier it’s still unknown whether the team will keep both players. Most likely Douglas will stay, but the waters seem murky around Hill. And these picks don’t really give any insight to what the team might do with their unrestricted free agents. Had the Knicks taken Stephen Curry, I thought it was going to signify the end of Nate Robinson, since the two would provide the same roles and weaknesses. Meanwhile Hill should be able to play alongside Lee, so Knick fans shouldn’t feel threatened by the move. New York will have to wait until July to see how things might play out.

2009 NBA Draft Day

REMINDER: Don’t forget to enter the KnickerBlogger.Net 2009 Draft Contest before the draft starts!

With the draft less than 12 hours away some recent developments have changed how the night might proceed for the Knicks. Most pertinent is Minnesota trading for the #5 pick. There were rumors that New York was looking to acquire this asset from Washington, but with the pick traveling north that option has vanished. More importantly this move might affect who is available when the Knicks turn comes around. Originally it was assumed that Washington would take PF Jordan Hill with this selection. However it’s unlikely that the Timberwolves will take him because they already have two young frontcourt players in Jefferson and Love. They sent PG Foye and GF Miller in the deal, and with a guard heavy draft it’s likely that Minnesota will select two guards. Therefore it’s possible that both players Minnesota takes tonight are ones the Knicks were targeting.

There have been a few other rumors that New York was trying to add a late first round pick, but as of this writing nothing has been made official. With a draft that is more deep than top heavy, the pick could net a rough gem like Austin Daye, Marcus Thornton, or Nick Calathes.

Chad Ford reported that the Knicks are likely to send Quentin Richardson to Memphis in exchange for Darko Milicic in the next few days. This is a smart short term move for the Knicks. For the first time in years, the Knicks will have a shotblocking center, something they sorely lacked in the Isiah Thomas era. Milicic has averaged 2.6 blk/36, but his other numbers have disappointing. Last year Darko’s TS% was a respectable 53.3, but that was about 50 points above his career average so it’s possible that his good shooting was just a career fluke. He’s never averaged more than 24 minutes per game over the course of a season, so it’s unlikely that Milicic will earn a starting spot. However he’ll provide some much needed interior defense to a team that is starving for it. Milicic has only one year left on his deal, so it will not affect the team’s 2010 plans.

In other NBA news, the Hawks have netted ex-Knick Jamal Crawford, while the Cavs are on the verge of grabbing Shaquille O’Neal. The latter deal is quite interesting from a number of perspectives. Cleveland is hoping that adding Shaq will help fuel a Cavalier championship and keep LeBron from leaving via free agency. From Shaq’s perspective he gets to match up against rival Dwight Howard and Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy, who he has feuded with in the press. And should the Cavs beat the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals this year, Shaq will go up against the Lakers and another rival Kobe Bryant.

Finally yours truly appeared on a Hardwood Paroxysm’s podcast last night for about 10 minutes, answering questions about the draft & the upcoming season.

*** BREAKING NEWS (1:30pm): Yahoo reports the Knicks acquired the Lakers’ first round pick (#29). According to the article the Knicks are looking to target a big man with this pick.

The KnickerBlogger.Net 2009 Draft Contest

Welcome readers, passersby, and lurkers to the KnickerBlogger 2009 Draft Contest! Time to test your psychic powers and predicative ability. We want you to guess the first 15 picks of the NBA draft which occurs on Thursday, June 19th, 2009.

To enter do the following:
1. Register and Login
2. Comment here with your picks. Make sure you have them numbered 1-15 (teams don’t matter, draft slot does).

For each pick you guess correctly, you get that many points. For instance, the first pick is worth 1 point, the second 2 points, … the fifteenth 15 points. Ties will be broken by order of posting (the first person to post the winning selection will be declared the winner). One entry per person. Entries will be closed approximately one hour before the draft. All decisions by KnickerBlogger.Net are final. Do not take internally.

The winner will choose between an Awesome Custom KnickerBlogger T-Shirt and an autographed copy of Brian Cronin’s book Was Superman a Spy? The runner up will rightfully receive the runner-up prize. Brian has been a KnickerBlogger writer since 2006, and his book is perfect for some light summer reading, coffee table discussion, or learning more about our funny section friends. On the other hand the T-Shirt will tell everyone you meet how truly awesome you are, in a way only a T-Shirt can.