Balkman Traded for Nothing?

According to ESPN:

The Denver Nuggets have traded Taurean Green, Bobby Jones and a 2010 second-round draft pick to the Knicks for Renaldo Balkman and cash considerations, an NBA front-office source tells ESPN.com’s John Hollinger.

Green and Jones are likely to be cut because they have non-guaranteed deals, the source told Hollinger. Their acquisitions would increase the Knicks’ roster to 17 players.

Interesting that Hollinger broke the story for ESPN, although he does cover the Knicks for the NY Sun. As for the Knicks, assuming that they’re going to cut Green and Jones, this is a bad trade. Balkman has value as a defender, rebounder, and transition player. If the only thing New York ends up with is the draft pick it’s a total loss. They’re not likely to get an NBA caliber with that 2nd round pick.

Until this is official I’m hoping that one of two things are true about this trade: either the draft pick is a conditional first or they are going to cut someone else and keep Green. He had nice numbers in 8 games in the NBDL and is only 21 years old. At least it would mean they got something out of the deal.

First Game Wrap Up

Gallinari:

He was downright awful in the first half. I went back to the play-by-play and compiled his stats at the half: 0-4, 3 TO, 1-1 REB, 3 PF, 1 AST, 0 BLK, 0 STL, 0 PTS

He had 2 turnovers and a foul in his first 3 minutes. He had two shots where he was forcing the action – wild up-and-unders that fooled no one. Gallo he didn’t really show any tenacity outside of the offense. There were a few occasions I felt he gave up on a ball that he might have dove for, and he didn’t do anything spectacular on defense. He made a couple of rookie mistakes, one being the cardinal sin of defense: fouling a player on a fast break and allowing him to make the shot.

Danilo showed positive signs in the second half, and ended with a decent line: 5-11, 4 TO, 4-2 REB, 5 PF, 2 AST, 1 BLK, 0 STL, 14 PTS

He gained confidence with a two handed dunk, and showed an accurate jumpshot. I have to give him credit for going to the hoop a couple of times as well. It’s hard to make assumptions of a player by one half of a summer league game, but I don’t think Gallo is going to be a regular contributor this year. And I’m fine with that, since the team drafted him for the future, not the present. There was enough to like about him, like how he came back from a dreadful first half. He showed ability and confidence. I think it’s going to take him a year before he learns the nuances of the NBA.

Wilson Chandler

Speaking of learning the nuances of the NBA, Wilson Chandler seems to have developed significantly from last year. Not only did he lead the team in scoring (11-21, 2 TO, 26 points) but he was seemingly omnipresent. Chandler had 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. When on the floor with Balkman the pair made the Knicks tough defensively, especially on the interior. They had a combined 4 blocks, about the number Zach Randolph would get in about 2 months. “Ill-Will” was certainly the Knicks best player on Monday.

Boxscore here: http://www.nba.com/summerleague2008/games/boxscore.jsp?gameId=1520800013

Renaldo Balkman

Balkman was his usual self, with not much change from last year. As always Balkman was great in pushing the ball up in transition, converted a few baskets around the rim, and played excellent defense. It didn’t bother me that he didn’t attempt a jump shot; what bothered me is that he didn’t make either of his free throws. Balkman would be fine without a mid-range game, but if he can’t hit free throws it really hurts his game.

Mardy Collins

The guy that I would cut in a second had a pretty good game yesterday. Unlike Balkman, Collins hit 8 of his 9 free throw attempts. And while I don’t expect him to go from 60% to 89% from the charity stripe, it’s nice to know that he probably has improved that aspect of his game. (Maybe he can show Balkman his technique.) Collins also hit his only three point attempt. Mardy’s game in the half court consisted of driving into the paint and trying to make things happen. It was a nice improvement, and if he can hit his free throws, an occasional three, and do a better job running the offense, there might be room on this team for him.

Anthony Roberson

Roberson was the surprise of the game. The 6-2 guard scored 22 points on 19 shots, but didn’t have a single assist. He reminded me a bit of Nate Robinson, minus the rebounding, passing, and childish demeanor. Roberson had two stints in the NBA for Memphis and Golden State, and his per minute stats show the same thing: decent scoring no passing. His efficiency (53.2 ts% and 52.6% efg) was good and his 1.5stl/36 was better than average. Quentin Richardson praised Anthony during the telecast saying the youngster was playing very well in practice. While a team could do much worse at the end of their bench, I’m not sure where he fits in on the Knicks’ roster. They have enough shoot first players at this point. On the other hand Roberson clearly has NBA talent, and the team roster might be very different in another year or two.

Knicks First 2008 Summer League Game

Today the Knicks will play their first summer league game, which will be at 4pm EST. Looking over the team, I’m having a hard time figuring out who the starting 5 will be. New York does have 5 players who are on their roster: Robinson, Gallinari, Chandler, Balkman, and Collins. The obvious choice is to make them the starters.

However, this may not be the best decision. The Knicks will want to give a lot of run to their first round draft pick Danilo Gallinari. Gallo would (at least according to the heights listed by the Knicks) be the tallest man on the court, which would make him the defacto center. Unfortunately it may not be a great idea to put your European teenager at center in his first professional contest. Of the three forwards Wilson Chandler has the best bulk/height ratio (230lbs, 6-8), and Balkman has the most quickness. So you may see Renaldo at SF, Gallo at PF, and Chandler at C.

This smaller lineup does make sense, especially considering that D’Antoni likes to play quick, but what if they face a team with a rather large NBA front court player? Today that question will be answered when they face the Cavs whose summer roster features Robert “Tractor” Traylor. One way to combat a larger player is to run more, but if the pace slows down and Traylor is eating the team up on the inside, the Knicks can use summer league veteran Paul Miller or 7 footer Zhang Songtao. On the other hand if the team wanted to give Gallinari a taste of what he might face at power forward in the NBA, they just might play him at center and force him to defend Traylor.

As for the back court, the team wouldn’t have invited Nate Robinson to Las Vegas and not play him. Last year they specifically asked Robinson to be the point guard, forcing him to share the ball more. If they do that this year, Mardy Collins might not be starting. Collins is an awful shooter and playing him at the 2 would be a disaster.

If they use Collins at the point Nate would slide to the 2, but that seems counterproductive to what the team would like to do during the season. Walsh has publicly stated his like for Jamal Crawford, and it’s been reported that the team would want him to concentrate on being a shooting guard not a point guard. If the Knicks buyout or send Stephon Marbury home, they only have Duhon, Robinson, and Collins as point guards on the roster. Considering the possibility that Collins may be released to sign with the Latvian team of his choice (VEF RIGA might be a good fit) then it definitely doesn’t make sense to have Robinson waste time at the shooting guard.

Hence my choice for starting shooting guard would be the 6-4 22 year old Von Wafer, who has the most recent NBA experience (29 games for Denver and Portland last year and 46 games total over three years). According to his D-League and college stats Wafer is a strong three point shooter, and would be a better fit for D’Antoni’s offense than Collins. Other options might be Antonio Graves, a combo guard for Pitt and France’s Pau-Orthez, and Marcus Hall a long range bomber who connected on 38% of his treys at Colorado last year. Graves was supposedly a good defender in college, and seems to have done well (at least in one game) in France. Hall doesn’t have Wafer’s professional experience or and at 6-2 is a little undersized for an NBA shooting guard.

The main focus of the Knicks summer will be on Gallinari, but where he plays and who he plays with may make for some interesting sub-plots.

Knicks 2008 Summer League Roster

No Player Pos Ht Wt Born AGE College/Country 2007-08 Team Yrs Pro
32 Renaldo Balkman F 6’8 208 7/14/84 23 South Carolina New York (NBA) 2
21 Wilson Chandler F 6’8 230 5/19/87 21 DePaul New York (NBA) 1
25 Mardy Collins G 6’6 220 8/4/84 23 Temple New York (NBA) 2
8 Danilo Gallinari F 6’9 225 8/8/88 19 Italy Armani Jeans (Italy) R
18 Dan Grunfeld G/F 6’5 198 2/7/84 24 Stanford Valencia (Spain) R
7 Antonio Graves G 6’2 190 4/17/85 23 Pittsburgh Pittsburgh (CBA) R
6 Marcus Hall G 6’2 175 8/6/85 22 Colorado Colorado (NCAA) R
36 Delonte Holland F 6’7 220 3/2/82 26 DePaul Cimberio Varese (Italy) R
30 Brandon Hunter F 6’7 266 11/24/80 27 Ohio Angelico Biella (Italy) 3
1 Antione Johnson G 6’1 185 9/21/85 22 Albany Gazi (Turkey) R
40 Paul Miller F/C 6’10 250 11/17/82 25 Wichita State SPEC Polonia (Poland) R
2 Anthony Roberson G 6’2 188 2/14/83 25 Florida Hapoel (Israel) 2
4 Nate Robinson G 5’9 180 5/31/84 24 Washington New York (NBA) 3
5 Von Wafer G 6’4 195 7/21/85 22 Florida State Portland (NBA) 3
55 Zhang Songtao C 6’11 212 10/27/87 20 China Beijing (China-ABA) R

Eggs & Basket(ball)

Free agent season is here, along with daydreams about 2010, when LeBron James might pack a suitcase and head for Broadway. Is it realistic to think we can cut a deal? By 2010, assuming they fill out the roster with mininum-salary bench players, the Knicks need to trim about $18 million worth of payroll, to offer a free-agent even a dollar more than the mid-level.  To offer a “star” contract – call it $15 million a year – requires cuts of about $26 million. (to get there next year, it’s more like $36 million). If LeBron has his sights set on the biggest offer, bar-none, we’ll need to clear even more space.  

The simplest way to cut costs — but the hardest to accomplish – is trading big-salaried players for players with shorter (expiring) contracts. Dumping Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry could allow the Knicks to offer 2010 free agent deals worth almost $20 million.  Trading Curry, Crawford and Jeffries (for shorter contracts) would do the same. 

Another “opportunity” is to renounce our own free agents. On the rosters below, I included extensions for David Lee and Nate Robinson, and Renaldo Balkman in 2010. The salaries are just educated guesses, but we could probably “save” about $13 million by not re-signing Lee or Robinson. Combined with a Randolph trade, that would give the Knicks about $19 million in free-agent spending money. A more likely option is trading one or both for draft picks; the salary difference would still “save” $5-10 million. There’s also the option of selling off our 2009 pick. Aside from putting cash in Dolan’s pocket, it would save the team $2-3 million in cap room. If we’re pulling out all the stops, that’s something to consider.

The math involves a lot of estimates and guesswork. It also assumes that we don’t sign any new players between now and 2010.  No mid-levels!  No matter what, it will require several major moves to clear cap space by the summer of 2010, and the effort might not be worth it. Gutting the roster for a *chance* to sign LeBron or D-Wade looks a bit like an unshaven guy at the tables, at 4am, laying it all down on Black. 

We’ll get a strong hint of Walsh’s thinking this summer. Does he sign David Lee to a big extension, or trade him? 

2009-2010

  • Zach Randolph            16,000,000
  • Eddy Curry                    10,500,423
  • Jamal Crawford               9,360,000
  • Quentin Richardson       8,700,000
  • David Lee                         8,000,000 (est)
  • Jerome James                 6,600,000
  • Jared Jeffries                   6,466,000
  • Nate Robinson                5,000,000 (est)
  • Danilo Gallinari                2,574,200
  • 2009 1st rounder              2,400,000  (est #7)
  • Renaldo Balkman            2,112,417
  • Wilson Chandler              1,255,440

total:                             $78,968,480 + 3 roster-fillers  
projected cap:              60,000,000

2010-2011

  • Zach Randolph           $17,333,333
  • Eddy Curry                     11,276,863
  • Jamal Crawford             10,080,000
  • David Lee                         8,000,000 (est)
  • Jared Jeffries                    6,883,800
  • Nate Robinson                 5,000,000 (est)
  • Renaldo Balkman            3,027,000 (cap hold)
  • Wilson Chandler              2,130,482
  • Danilo Gallinari                2,753,800
  • 2009 1st rounder             2,600,000  (est #7)

total:                             $69,085,278 + 5 roster-fillers
projected cap                62,000,000

2011-2012 

  • David Lee                          8,000,000 (est)
  • Nate Robinson                 5,000,000 (est)
  • Renaldo Balkman            4,000,000 (est)
  • Wilson Chandler              5,000,000 (est)
  • Danilo Gallinari                 3,491,820
  • 2009 1st rounder              2,800,000  (est #7)
  • 2011 1st rounder              1,700,000 (est #15)

total:                             $29,991,820 +  8 roster-fillers

*all numbers from ShamSports

 

Booo?

Before the draft started, ESPN broadcasted videos of the potential draftees. When Danilo Gallinari was shown on the big screen, the MSG crowd erupted in a chorus of boos. An hour later the Knicks would draft Danilo Gallinari. Of course Knick fans greeted him with a second chorus of boos.

The dislike of Gallinari isn’t from anything the youngster has done. In fact most fans have never seen him play. Most Knicks fans knowledge of Gallinari is limited to what’s been reported about him and a few clips on YouTube. It’s safe to say that a majority of naysayers have never watched him play a single game. So why all the hate?

There are two simple reasons. The first is how the media has portrayed Gallinari. Leading up to the draft I read a lot of articles speculating on the Knicks’ pick. Most, if not all, depicted Danilo as an unathletic player who had family ties to Knick coach Mike D’Antoni. Vittorio Gallinari roomed with D’Antoni’s when the pair played in Italy. Although it was never mentioned specifically, the implication was that Gallinari wasn’t worth the 6th overall pick and only was on the Knicks radar due to nepotism.

But the reality is that Gallinari was thought to be a lottery pick even before D’Antoni was hired to coach New York. That Gallinari’s father played professionally should be a positive attribute. Children of athletes usually have the advantage of both genetics and round the clock coaching. Additionally Danilo’s high free throw rate shows him to be athletic enough to get to the rim.

The second reason is the failure of International picks over the last few years. Recent picks like Marco Belinelli, Yi Jianlian, Andrea Bargnani, Saer Sene, Oleksiy Pecherov, Yaroslav Korolev, Johan Petro haven’t exactly set the league on fire. And the Knicks have an especially bad track record with foreigners. Maciej Lampe barely survived in the NBA past his 21st birthday, and Frederick Weis is still the team’s biggest draft day blunder. The last Euro taken as high as Gallinari was his countryman Bargnani who went first overall to the Raptors 2 years ago. Bargnani has been such a failure, that the team traded its first rounder this year to replace him.

However Gallinari’s age 19 European season is superior to Bargnani’s. For instance Bargnani was a reserve (13.1MPG), while Gallinari was a starter (33.3MPG). Per 40 minutes Danilo scored more points (20.2 to 17.8), turned the ball over less (2.0 to 2.4), committed fewer fouls (3.1 to 6.2), and went to the foul line more often (7.6 to 4.1). He also shot better from downtown (38.1 to 35.2) and from the free throw line (83.5% to 59.5%). Even by Bargnani’s second season in Lega A, he still didn’t play as many minutes (23.5MPG) as Gallinari did as a 19 year old.

As with all draft picks, Gallinari may or may not have a fruitful NBA career. And like most draft picks it may take a season or two before we know which path he’s on. Considering his age and the Knicks depth at F (Richardson, Jeffries, Balkman, Chandler, Lee, Randolph, Rose) Danilo may start the season in the D-League. Luckily, Gallinari’s pedigree and statistical superiority to Bargnani should result in a brighter future.

Ah… The Bittersweet Taste of Ambivalence

As you are no doubt aware by now, the Knicks have hired former Phoenix Suns head coach Mike D’Antoni to be their new head coach (4 years/$6 million per). Opinions are flying in from pundits, bloggers, fans, and onlookers. Opinions, it should come as no surprise, cover the spectrum. Some are excited. Others are disappointed. Personally, I am ambivalent about the hire.

I both love it and hate it.

Ambivalence: The condition of holding opposite feelings for the same person or object

Love. I’ve been begging the Knicks to run for quite some time. Although the current roster is missing Steve Nash the Knicks could increase their pace from a middle-of-the-pack 13th into the top 7 just by deciding to play faster. Running would maximize the strengths of the young core, Curry’s and Randolph’s loafing be damned. When pundits opine about how poorly D’Antoni fits the roster, they are usually referring to Marbury, Curry, and Randolph. But, Walsh is here precisely because these players really are no longer the core. They’re baggage. On the other hand, Nate Robinson, Crawford, Lee, Jeffries, Chandler, and Balkman could potentially thrive in an uptempo running game. And for what it’s worth, in the brief moments Curry has been healthy and in reasonable shape he’s run the floor well. He’s not a poor fit for D’Antoni’s system per se. Finally, the other thing I love is that it is relatively easy to find complimentary players for D’Antoni’s style at fairly reasonable prices. Raja Bell, James Jones, Anthony Parker, T.J. Ford, Kurt Thomas, and Boris Diaw were all basically considered minor acquisitions when they joined Phoenix or Toronto (Phoenix’s closest imitator).

Hate. On inspection the D’Antoni courtship is eerily like Larry Brown’s. Like Brown, D’Antoni has had some issues working and playing well with others. I’m not suggesting that D’Antoni is a drama queen on par with Brown, but basically D’Antoni put himself on the market because Steve Kerr bruised his ego. It’s ostensibly NY’s gain, but still troubling. I am concerned that D’Antoni’s tendency to bristle at criticism, a bit like former Mets skipper Bobby Valentine, is a potential land mine. If/when Walsh inserts a GM (perhaps Billy King) between himself and D’Antoni we could see history repeat itself. It’s quite possible that the messenger–the inexperienced Kerr–rather than the message was the problem for D’Antoni but it’s something to keep an eye on. I also think it’s legitimate to question D’Antoni’s willingness to hold his players accountable–particularly on defense. Amare Stoudemire is unguardable when he’s on, but he remains mostly an indifferent defender. I don’t expect D’Antoni to publicly humiliate his players but I do expect to see improvement in the “hustle” categories (i.e., steals, blocks, drawn charges, boards, deflections) from stars. A friend once told me that when one of your stars doesn’t defend–which is to say, gives effort on the defensive end–it is a direct reflection of his respect for the coach. I believe that. None of these are fatal flaws for D’Antoni, but they are precisely the kinds of flaws that could keep a championship caliber team out of the finals or turn an imposing rebuilding job into an impossible one.

A word about Mark Jackson. One routinely over-valued aspect of sports is coaching experience. Coaching is obviously important, but it’s so important few truly incompetent coaches ever see the light of day, Jerry Tarkanian’s brief foray into the NBA notwithstanding. The distance separating the best coaches from the worst is routinely offset by factors outside the coach’s control like injuries, relationships with players or management. Inexperience can be offset by the experience of others, like Avery Johnson’s staff in Dallas. I would like to have seen Mark Jackson offered the head-coaching job. He seems like the right fit for a bad team in need of a classic rebuild. But I don’t feel bad for him. This would have been a terrible first job. Having said that, there is little reason to believe that D’Antoni will be a complete disaster. He’s clearly a quality coach and he has players on the roster that do in fact fit his preferred style. NY should improve from horrible to mediocre just from competent management and coaching.