Free Agent Bargain Bin

The attention is rightly focused on the big gun free agents, but it’s also fun to think about potential cheap free agency steals. The Knicks could use some bargains to fill out the rotation no matter how they fair with the bigger name free agents.

It’s not easy to know what offers various free agents will receive, but here are my (mostly subjective) rankings of the top players I assume may be had at relative bargain prices:

(Honorary mention #1 LeBron James… even at the max  LeBron is the biggest bargain in the entire league.)

#2 Craig Smith

Should be among the most underrated free agents: he’s both productive and in his prime. Doesn’t have tons of upside, but is a relatively sure thing. Most other bargains are young with no history of production or old without much left. Smith has consistently produced on bad teams for both the Timberwolves and Clippers. He scores efficiently and is a fairly stout defender, though his rebounding is mediocre and he turns it over a bit too much. Craig is among the most productive undersized 4s out there and should be a solid 4th or 3rd bigman. Lack of a jump-shot probably turns D’Antoni off.

It’s hard to imagine Smith getting more than the $4 million Brandon Bass got last offseason. He’s only about 6’6.5” in shoes, so teams are likely to have their reservations. Additionally he only averaged 16 mpg, leading to an unimpressive per game line of 8 and 4. Guys without impressive per game numbers often get overlooked by conventional GMs.

Similar Player Comparison

#3 Ian Mahinmi

There’s very little track record, but Mahinmi comes in 3rd (2nd really) because it’s unlikely he costs much (Spurs declined a $1 mill+ option for next season), his very limited track record is impressive, and he’s still got big upside.

For some reason Gregg Popovich just would not play Mahinmi. The conventional wisdom is that the Spurs have a loaded frontcourt, but until they added McDyess and Blair last offseason that really wasn’t the case. So I assume there is some sort of b-ball IQ/work ethic/attitude/injury issue. A red flag since the Spurs are smart and Pops usually gets the most from good players. However the Frenchman is crazy athletic, only 23 years old, and stands 6’11.

In the 165 minutes he earned in 2010, he managed 22 pts, 11.3 reb, and 1.7 blk per 36 minutes, with a very healthy TS% of .667. Of course some of that occurred in garbage time, but it’s very intriguing nonetheless. In 07-08 he put up similar numbers in the D-League. He’s got the feeling of a Jermaine O’Neal level hidden gem.

If Mahinmi can get it together enough to get on the court, he might be a good fit at C for D’Antoni: basically, he’s an athletic freak who finishes strong at the hoop. Has the potential to be the interior presence the Knicks have been desperate for. Even if other teams bid up his services to, say, the $4-7 mill per year range, I would consider spending short-term dollars on Mahinmi before I spent long-term dollars on Rudy Gay, Joe Johnson, and some of the other big name FAs.

Similar Player ComparisonBrad Miller’s 22 year old rookie season is another one.

#4 Shaun Livingston

Plenty of question marks, but might have put it all together last season. The biggest question with Livingston is whether he can stay healthy. Once thought to have HOF potential, Livingston’s upside is now closer to solid rotation player. He’s not a good jump shooter, so D’Antoni may not love him, but he’d be a good backcourt partner for Douglas on paper. Livingston can run an offense, but at 6’7” he can defend shooting guards.

Shaun is a low-volume scorer and was efficient last season, but in fairness it was a small sample. (Despite having no 3-pt shot, he’s primarily a jump-shooter and shot well on jumpers last season.) Solid playmaker, but TOs are a big problem. Livingston’s biggest strength is versatility: he can play PG on offense and SG on defense, allowing him to complement a smaller combo-guard who plays the SG on offense and PG on defense. Toney Douglas is such a player. (Jaycee Carroll too.) Livingston might be had cheap, since the Wiz have filled up their backcourt. We’ll see if last season was a fluke or a sign of things to come… and that’s what you want to be saying about bargain bin free agents (not highly paid ones…).

Similar Player Comparison Unfortunately, to date, closer to Marko Jaric than Doc Rivers or Penny. If we’re talking minimum salary, a 25 year old Jaric is a good value. If we’re talking $4-5 mill per… not as much.

#5 Dorell Wright

Wright is a 24 year old coming off a good season where he made $2.75 million. Should the Knicks have $3-5 mill left over perhaps he’s worth a look. If he ends up with no offer but the veteran’s minimum, then he’s a steal. There’s a lot of redundancy with him and Bill Walker, Wilson Chandler, and Landry Fields… so the Knicks resources are probably better spent elsewhere. I think Wright will be a solid FA bargain for someone, though.

Wright is similar to Wilson Chandler. Dorell is low-volume/medium-high-efficiency, while Wilson is medium-volume/medium-low-efficiency. Otherwise Wright was as good as or better than Chandler in terms of defense, shot blocking, stealing, rebounding, TOs, assists, etc (despite the prevailing homerism, Chandler is just not a very special player). Wright’s 3-pt shot took a huge step forward in 2009-10 after missing most of 08-09. He’s already shown the outside shot that we’re all hoping Chandler will develop by 24 years old.

Wright is a strong defender who I would also compare to Mickael Pietrus. He could fill the wing defense/ outside shooting role (Bowen, Bell, etc.) quite well (also MUCH better finisher than Bowen or Bell). Play either the 2 or the 3 depending on situation. A solid, well-rounded NBA rotation player entering his prime. Should Chandler be used in a sign-and-trade, Wright could instantly replace his production at a slightly higher cost. A change of scenery could do Wright some good. I bet San Antonio steals him for, say, 3-4 years $3 mill per.

Similar Player Comparison

#6 Ben Wallace

We all know Ben: big on defense, not so much on offense. Not a typical D’Antoni guy, but the Knicks were desperate for some interior D last season and might be again next season. Ben played for the minimum in Detroit last season, playing pretty well for an otherwise soft, underperforming Pistons squad. His DPOY days are over, but for the minimum there may not be a better interior defender. Detroit was 8.6 pts/100 possessions better defensively with him on the court last season and 1.6 pts/100 better offensively. Their rebounding went up on both sides of the ball, they blocked more shots, and teams had a harder time scoring 1-on-1. Wallace and LeBron have a relationship from Cleveland, no idea if that’s a plus or a minus… Of the washed up veterans, Wallace is probably my favorite (Maybe Kurt Thomas #2).

Why I Hate…

[After Saturday night’s defeat against Cleveland, the self loathing Knicks fan comes out and spews some venom.]

Chris Duhon
Well there’s the obvious statistical reasons. Players are supposed to get more efficient when they shoot less. Duhon averages 8.7 pts/36 with a TS% of 48.0%. Just to put that in perspective, Jared Jeffries scores 6.6 pts/36 with a TS% of 50.7%. Yes Jared Jeffries is more efficient than Duhon. If you gave Duhon’s extra shots to Jeffries, their numbers might be identical. Here’s a note to NBA players: if you can be compared to Jared Jeffries on offense, you suck.

Watching Duhon drive the lane is like watching your least mentally stable friend trying to pick up the most drunk girl in the bar. Both are way in over their heads, and the results are going to be ugly. I’m dumbfounded at how many shot attempts in the paint from point blank Duhon passes out of. It’s like Duhon’s bigger brothers were Ben Wallace and Josh Smith, and he’s been irreparably scared from scoring inside.

What sealed the deal was Duhon’s actions with 3:12 left in the Cleveland game. New York was down by 20 at half time, but they clawed their way back to a 3 point deficit. Nate has the ball on the top of the key & Duhon is on the wing calling for the ball. Nate gives him the ball and without hesitation Duhon launches up a three. Of all the Knicks on the court, I was dumbfounded that Duhon would demand the ball then take the last shot given his poor offensive play and his unselfishness. Was this a way for him to try to get back his starting job through heroics? In any case the shot careens off the rim and the Cavs will hold onto the victory with a little help from…

Al Harrington
I’ll give you this, when the Knicks offensive is reeling and I want them to just score a freakin basket already! I hope the ball lands in Al Harrington’s hands. Yes I received some slack for being pro-Harrington at times, because all the guy does is score, but unlike Duhon he’s not awful at it. A TS% of 53.8% is good for a guy that averages 21.5 pts/36.

Saturday night I watched the second half from a bar, and had to give back stories for some of the Knicks to my wife. When Harrington got the ball I said two things. First is that sometimes they play “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon after he scores (she likes Paul Simon). Second is that when he gets the ball he’s not likely to give it back. And the latter is what kills me about Al. Everyone watching a Knick game knows when Al Harrington is going to shoot; when he gets the ball and makes that quick first move. That’s it the ball is going up – no matter how many defenders converge on him or how many of his teammates are open.

So with 1:51 left in last night’s game, with the Knicks down 5 and needing a score Harrington gets the ball and puts up one of the ugliest shots I’ve ever seen. If I recall correctly, Lebron James is guarding him and Al wildly chucks it off the glass. That’s it game over. Having Al Harrington on your team is the proverbial “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.”

Mike D’Antoni
When cornered by my wife Saturday night, I admitted that I like D’Antoni and that I think he’s one of the league’s best coaches. But I added “you have to deal with his quirks.” Now every coach has his quirks, and I’m fine with most of D’Antoni’s. Sure I’d like his rotation to be longer, to have him use a 7 foot center, or perhaps for him to communicate with his players on rotation issues. But he’s a good coach with a solid offensive and cares about defense. Even D’Antoni’s harshest critics have to admit that he’s better than the past few Knicks coaches.

However you have to wonder why D’Antoni had Harrington and Duhon on the floor for the final minutes. On the bench was Danilo Gallinari and David Lee. Gallo had 13 points on 10 shots, with 5 assists. Lee had 5 turnovers, but still managed 20 points on 14 shots, so why not pair him with Hill in lieu of Harrington? But more importantly where is the accountability with Duhon and Harrington? The pair wrecked what could have been a great comeback with lousy decision making. And they frequently make the same mistakes over and over again. Why not let them reflect on their mistakes with some extra bench time? Perhaps sticking them in the doghouse for a few games might prevent another loss from boneheaded mistakes.

Debunking The Four vs Five Theory

One of the reasons I started this blog was to question NBA cliches, vapid expressions like “defense wins championships”, “momentum”, and “chemistry”. One thing that’s been on my mind recently has been some of the debates on KnickerBlogger during the Lee/Balkman era. For years David Lee has been a favorite by a section of KnickerBlogger writers and followers, and in the earlier days the General’s troops received a lot of criticism for supporting him so vehemently. Lee’s detractors argued that putting him on the floor hurt the offense because his limited skills gave opposing teams the equivalent of an extra man on defense, saying that the team was trying to score 4 on 5. Meanwhile Lee’s supporters argued that his excellent inside scoring and rebounding forced the opposing team to keep a man on him.

To be clear, this was early in David Lee’s career, before he extended his range to 15 feet and was more aggressive with putting the ball on the floor. Also I’d like to add that Renaldo Balkman deserves mention in this discussion. Much like Lee, Balkman’s offensive game was limited to scoring near the hoop and recovering his team’s missed shots.

This topic has been on my mind because some fans are giving a portion of the credit to the Knicks recent win streak to the insertion of Jared Jeffries into the rotation. I don’t want to bring Jeffries’ defensive contributions into this discussion, and admit that there’s no doubt most of his value comes from that end of the floor. What I’m most interested in is solely the discussion on the offensive side of the ball, and I’d like to limit this topic to that portion.

Jeffries is just awful on the offensive side of the floor, with exactly one skill – rebounding. Of course this is the same attribute that Lee & Balkman exceled at, but the latter were better at it and had the additional attribute of being able to score around the basket at a good rate. Jeffries slightly higher turnover rate is exacerbated by his low point total. (In other words, his hands are much worse than the other two.) If the ability for defenses to leave a offensively challenged 5th man uncovered was real, then Jeffries would be a lightning rod for such an effect.

  Player Year eFG% FTA  FT% ORB AST TOV  PTS  TS%
Jeffries 2010 .444 2.8 .576 3.1 2.2 1.9  8.2 .473
 Balkman 2010 .521 3.2 .531 3.4 1.5 1.6 10.5 .533
     Lee 2008 .575 3.7 .762 3.8 1.7 1.7 12.7 .621

A good example of Jeffries ineptitude was Saturday’s game. Jeffries overall line wasn’t awful, as he scored 12 points on 10 shots with just 2 turnovers and 2 assists. However his stats, which were atypically good for Jeffries, belies how poorly he played. Easily he could have had a much better night, as he missed two wide open three pointers, a 5 foot hook shot, and three layups two of which were blocked. The latter acts are typical of Jeffries who at 6-11 is inexplicably feeble around the basket. At the end of the night, Jeffries was a team worst -13.

If you asked me to sum up in as few words as possible why I don’t believe in momentum in basketball, I would say watch enough games, and you’ll see that when announcers start talking about momentum often enough the momentum will “shift”. Momentum typically isn’t something a team builds on, but rather it has zero predictive ability. New York had a lot of momentum in their 12-0 run early in the first quarter, of course until the Rockets followed it with their own 13-5 run. Momentum truly is just the last shot. You would expect when the Knicks began to play Jeffries, one of the worst offensive players in the league, major minutes that there would be a sizable group of fans discussing the Knicks being hurt by having to play 4 vs 5 on offense. However it seems that the opposite has occurred. When the Knicks put Jeffries into the starting lineup and began to win games, no one mentioned his hindrance on the offensive side.

Normally when I debunk something I tend to look at it from a statistical bent. However in this case, since the observational analysts seem to be content with the results, I guess I should be as well. Or rather, if by using the same source (a team trying to score with a player who isn’t able to score on his own) and method (observational data) a group of people come up with two different theories (Lee/Balkman are detrimental to the team, Jeffries is not) then you can assume that there is an inherent flaw in the study and the theory has no merit. From my perspective this is a clear case of looking at the result and trying to fit an answer into the blank. When the Knicks were playing poorly, the “4 vs 5 offense” existed and part of the problem. When they were playing well, the “4 vs 5 offense” wasn’t real.

I guess if I wanted to give real proof I’d point to the 2006 Pistons who had the league’s 4th best offense despite giving Ben Wallace 35 minutes a night. From an observational standpoint I could look at Saturday’s game. If the Rockets let Jeffries freelance without a defender then David Lee and Wilson Chandler would be the most hurt. But the duo shot a combined 20-30, most of their work coming from in the paint and in the midrange.

In fact the Knick offense was fine unless Jeffries was shooting. If he made his three layups (which you’d expect from someone 6-11), the Knicks start the 4th quarter up by 7 points. Add in the two turnovers and two wide open three pointers he missed, and the team would have cruised to victory with an average performance from #20. So it wasn’t that the other team was able to use Jeffries to stunt the rest of the offense, but rather it was Jeffries own futility which hurt the offense. So if the Knicks aren’t having their entire offense disrupted by having Jared Jeffries on the floor for 33 minutes a game (his average since December 6th), then playing a offensively superior player like a young David Lee or Renaldo Balkman wasn’t a detriment either.

What’s Wrong With the Knicks?

The New York Knicks have limped out to a 1-6 start, their worst since 2003 when they began the year 1-8. That season, they eventually finished 37-45, which would actually be an improvement for this team. So although history shows us that all is not lost, there are some issues the team must overcome to get back on track.

Not to Three?
The team’s three point percentage of 30.3% is 57 points lower than last year’s average, but that number isn’t indicative of how bad New York’s shooting has been. That percentage is inflated by Danilo Gallinari’s sizzling 46.6%. The non-Gallo Knicks are shooting an appallingly bad 22.5%. And while the knee-jerk reaction is to blame non-shooter Jared Jeffries and rookie Toney Douglas, the pair are actually 2nd and 3rd on the team respectively in three point percentage. It’s the regulars of Hughes, Harrington, Duhon, Chandler, and Robinson that are sinking the team.

For some teams, going through a cold spell from behind the arc might be a nuisance, but D’Antoni’s offense requires the team to make their treys to open up the inside. I documented this here, showing how other teams are clogging the middle and daring the team to beat them from the outside. That said this is probably an early season funk, and more likely than not New York will end up in the middle of the pack with regards to three point shooting. Hopefully the drought will end sooner than later.

Ill Ill Will?
It seems that Knick fans are split on their opinion of Wilson Chandler. Some see a youngster with a lot of upside, while others see caution flags from his advanced stats. But neither side envisioned him playing this poorly. Chandler has been dreadful in 2010, starting off the year with a PER of 7.7, nearly half of his 2009 rate of 12.9. The decline is entirely due to his anemic shooting: 39.9% TS% and 20.0% 3P%.

Chandler did have surgery in the offseason, which prevented him from working on his game during the summer. The good news is that his non-shooting stats have been identical to last year, which means that there isn’t a lingering physical issue that is causing his decline. The bad news is Chandler was never a good shooter to begin with, and that he needed the extra time to work on his jumper. The best the team can hope for is to send Chandler slashing to the hoop more often, which is usually a good prescription for any athletic player struggling to find their range.

There’s No Movement, No Movement, No Movement…
What happened to the movement on offense? The hallmark of D’Antoni’s offense is having some kind of constant motion, either via ball or players. But this year, it seems that the half court offense has become stagnant. And of course there’s the limitation of the roster. Chris Duhon is still passing up easy buckets in the paint, Al Harrington is still refusing to pass the ball, and Jeffries is still getting court time. The one guy who has the multifaceted game to jumpstart the offense, Nate Robinson, is sidelined with an injury.

Again it seems the lack of an outside threat has hurt the team, but perhaps D’Antoni should be finding another way to generate points. Given his reputation as an offensive coach, he should be able to coax some more production out of this group.

Pennies On the Dollar (Or Thousands of Dollars on the Millions of Dollars)
While one could argue that their precious cap space and a lack of assets prevented them from making a major move, the truth is the team failed to improve at all. The team didn’t deviate from their 2009 roster much, adding only Darko Milicic, Jordan Hill, Toney Douglas, and Marcus Landry. None of these players are averaging 10 minutes per game.

The problem boils down to New York failing to find any low cost help. It’s easy to say the NBA is a superstar’s league, but the truth is that teams need to fill their entire roster. This means front offices need to not only be successful in acquiring superstars, but digging the bargain bin for productive players. The Celtics might not have won a a title without their big trio, but perhaps their troika of youngsters Rondo, Perkins, and Powe was equally important to that championship run. The same could be said for the Spurs for turning the undrafted 30 year old Bruce Bowen and 57th overall pick Manu Ginobili into a part of their core. And the Pistons would not have won their last championship without Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups – two players that were relative nobodies before their arrival in Detroit.

Every year there seems to be a few unheralded players who find success on the major league level, in addition to homeless veterans willing to play for a bargain. In the Donnie Walsh era, the Knicks have flirted with lots of inexpensive players like Von Wafer, Demetris Nichols, Anthony Roberson, Cheikh Samb, Mouhamed Sene, Courtney Simms, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Joe Crawford, Chris Hunter and Morris Almond but failed to unearth any rough gems.

For a team that relies on outside shooting so much (New York was 1st in three pointers attempted last year), the team has a glaring hole at shooting guard. The 2-guard position is filled by a small forward (Wilson Chandler), an undersized point guard (Nate Robinson) and an aging slasher with a questionable shot (Larry Hughes). To compound the situation the team does have a free roster spot and there are some options available (Almond, Crawford and Szczerbiak). It would cost the team a fraction of their total salary to acquire a shooter, but for some reason they’re content in staying pat. Having a three point specialist would probably be helpful a few nights over the course of the season. But developing one from the NBA scrap heap into the rotation would be the mark of a good front office.

2010 Poll: Who Will Win the East?

Cleveland Cavaliers (Vegas odds to win title: 3:1)
Despite failing to reach the Finals last year, the Cavs remain the favorite to win the East. Over the summer, Cleveland swapped Ben Wallace for Shaq, and while the Big Diesel is merely a fraction of his former dominant self, he’s miles ahead in productivity over Wallace. But the Cavs didn’t stop there, they also augmented their defense with Jamario Moon and Leon Powe. Last year Cleveland was unable to stop Howard in the middle, or preventing both Lewis and Turkoglu from torching them from the perimeter. This year they should be better equipped against those types of matchups.

Orlando Magic (5:1)
After shocking many with their playoff victory last year over Cleveland, Orlando made one major change this off season. The Magic lost Hedo Turkoglu in free agency, but managed to replace him with Vince Carter. This certainly is an upgrade by talent, but it remains to be seen how Carter fits in with Howard and co. Additionally Orlando managed to keep productive backup center Marcin Gortat and netted Brandon Bass in a double whammy free agency scuffle with the Mavericks. Howard was miffed last year at his lack of touches down the stretch late in games, and this year any late game heroics will likely begin with the ball in Carter’s hands. If Stan Van Gundy isn’t his team’s own worst enemy, Orlando will have enough firepower on both ends of the court to vie for a championship.

Boston Celtics (9:2)
Just two years ago the Boston Celtics dominated the league with 66 regular season victories and a title run. But last year injuries to Garnett and Powe thwarted any playoff hopes. Like the other two Eastern powerhouses, the Celtics didn’t stay put in the off season. Boston replaced Powe with Rasheed Wallace, and ‘Sheed will help the team cope defensively against Shaq and Howard while spacing the floor on offense. The line on the Celtics opened at 9:1, but enough money has come in to propel them above the Magic. Given the choice, I would put the Celtics third back given the team’s age and lack of depth. If the ancient core of Garnett, Allen, Pierce, and Wallace all aren’t upright for May & June, Boston won’t make it past the second round this year.

Everyone else (starting at 20:1)
The field consists of a few minor players that are hoping for Cinderella seasons. Atlanta has scratched at the cusp of the upper Eastern teams, but always seem to fall short and Jamal Crawford isn’t the person to put them over the edge. Miami is hoping that youngsters Beasley and Chalmers combined with oldster Jermaine O’Neal provide enough of a supporting cast for Dwyane Wade. Meanwhile the Wizards are hoping that a core of Arenas, Butler, Jamison, and Miller will put enough points on the boards to offset their team’s lack of defense. Last year Philly was the talk of the off season with their abduction of Elton Brand in free agency. Perhaps Eddie Jordan can find a way to make a most of their talent.

{democracy:35}

I Want To Draft Like It’s 1999

An NBA draft where the #1 overall consensus is a power forward, and a ton of guards are to be had including an intriguing foreign guard? No I’m not talking about this Thursday’s NBA draft where Blake Griffin is likely to go #1, there is a lot of depth at guard, and everyone is wondering where Rickey Rubio will land. I’m talking about the 1999 draft where Elton Brand went first, guards were taken in 7 of the next 10 picks, and Manu Ginobili quietly landed to the Spurs in the second round.

Of the top 10 picks, 9 of them had solid to spectacular careers, but only one of those stayed long enough to be seen as a success for the team that drafted him: Shawn Marion. A lot of these players were traded to other teams before they could really help the team that drafted them like Brand, Francis (a draft day holdout), Odom, Hamilton, Andre Miller, and Jason Terry. Number 5 pick Jonathan Bender never lived up to his potential due to injury. Wally Szczerbiak stayed with Minnesota, but was taken too high at #6. Baron Davis stayed with the Hornets for 5 and a half seasons, but was traded midyear to Golden State where he engineered one of the biggest first round upsets in history.

Although there was plenty of value at the top 10, the next 10 was filled with busts. Only Ron Artest (#16), Corey Maggette (#13) and James Posey (#18) were worth noting. As for the rest of the draft, there were two European superstars taken late in Kirilenko (#24) and Manu Ginobili (#57), and a few fillers (Jeff Foster #21, Kenny Thomas #22, Devean George #23, and Gordon Giricek #40).

Knick fans remember this draft for grabbing Frederic Weis one pick before Ron Artest, but that may not have been the biggest bust of the draft. As I previously mentioned the top 10 all netted solid players except for Bender. If you want to excuse him for injury, then nearly every pick 11-14 (except for Maggette) could be seen as failures as well. Trajan Langdon at #11 is a candidate, although he’s had a good career overseas. Aleksandar Radojevic (from the powerhouse Barton County Community College) was taken 3 picks prior to Weis. And the Timberwolves struck out the pick before New York’s with Duke’s William Avery.

So how might this draft have turned out? Here’s my re-draft, not necessarily in order of how they should have been taken. But rather in how one alternate earth might have been for the first 16 picks.

#1 Chicago – Elton Brand
The Bulls made the right pick. Actually in our reality they made 2 right picks with Artest at #15. The problem was that they gave up on that team too early. Chicago could have been a mid-west powerhouse with Brand, Artest, and Brad Miller with a supporting cast of Jamal Crawford, Fred Hoiberg and Jake Voskuhl. The problem was the team was still young & surrounded with little else. Marcus Fizer? Khalid El-Amin? Corey Benjamin? Bryce Drew? Michael Ruffin? Dragan Tarlac? Dalibor Bagaric? No wonder they won 15 games in 2001.

#2 Vancouver – Lamar Odom
Vancouver didn’t deserve Steve Francis, but they didn’t really need him either. They had grabbed Mike Bibby in the draft before, and as New Yorkers learned Francis didn’t play well with other point guards. Instead they should have grabbed Odom. The Grizzlies had an awful team, but Bibby, Odom, and Shareef Abdur-Rahem would have been a respectable threesome. Looking at their history, they were doomed to failure by their poor drafts Reeves #6, Abdur Rahim #3, and Antonio Daniels #4 is hardly the core you want to build a franchise on.

#3 Charlotte – Baron Davis
Davis was the right pick here.

#4 Los Angeles Clippers – Steve Francis
Now these two deserved each other.

#5 Toronto – Ron Artest (traded to Indiana)
The Raptors originally drafted Bender and traded him for Antonio Davis. Why would Toronto do such a thing? They have Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Doug Christie. So there goes the shooting guards and small forwards. They could use a point guard, but that isn’t a priority with Carter & McGrady taking up a big share of the offense. They need a big man, but there really aren’t any in this draft (Jeff Foster?). I see why they traded this pick, they had two dynamic scorers and needed some front court depth (past Charles Oakley). So I have the Raptors trading this pick still, and Indiana selecting Ron Artest instead. The Pacers would end up with Ron after a few seasons later anyway. The Pacers would have Artest to defend Allan Houston in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals (which Indana won) but they could also use him to shut down Kobe Bryant in the Finals (which they lost in 6).

#6 Minnesota – Manu Ginobili
I’m going to go out on a limb here. Before Garnett went to Boston and won a title, people argued how the league would have been if he had swapped teams with Tim Duncan. That the two were equally good, and Duncan won those championships because of his supporting cast. So let’s see how Garnett would have done with the Argentine at his side. Also in this Bizzaro universe Kevin McHale would be a genius.

#7 Washington – Rip Hamilton
Washington really sucked. It doesn’t matter who they draft here. The guy is going to be gone by the time Jordan arrives. Might as well be Rip so that the Pistons improbable championship still occurs.

#8 Cleveland – Shawn Marion
Cleveland took who they thought was the best guy on the board, Andre Miller. And normally I agree with such a signing, except the Cavs had two young (but undersized) guards on their roster already: Brevin Knight and Earl Boykins. Miller’s arrival meant that both would be gone within a year. Cleveland let Boykins go, but traded Brevin Knight for Jimmy Jackson, Anthony Johnson and Larry Robinson. All three would be off Cleveland’s roster by the next season. I hate it when a team overloads at one position and fails to net anything substantial from trades. If we’re not taking Andre Miller here, then you can have an up-tempo team with Knight/Boykins. So I think Shawn Marion is the right fit here.

#9 Phoenix – Corey Maggette
The Suns are probably crushed that they didn’t get Marion. They have Jason Kidd, and are about to offer Anfernee Hardaway to a huge contract. Maggette’s scoring and rebounding would be adequate in lieu of Marion’s energy game.

#10 Atlanta – Trajan Langdon
The Hawks have Mutombo and Rider and are in dire need of a point guard. So with Andre Miller on the board, they’re going to draft Trajan Langdon. This way by 2005 they’ll have learned their lesson and take Deron Williams or Chris Paul with the #2 pick instead of Marvin Williams.

#11 Cleveland – Jason Terry
With the Cavs comitting to an up-tempo offense with their #8 pick, they should take Terry here. Knight, Terry, Marion, and Donyell Marshall are undersized, but should make for a laser fast offense. With Zydrunas healthy in 2011, that’s not such a bad team.

#12 Toronto – Aleksandar Radojevic
As I said earlier, the Raptors really need front court depth, so this is why they reached for the 7-3 Euro. And this is why you don’t draft for need.

#13 Seattle – Wally Szczerbiak (traded to Orlando)
The Magic who acquire this pick in a trade have Darrell Armstrong, Bo Outlaw, and Ben Wallace. They need someone who can score, and don’t care about defense. Wally fits the bill here.

#14 Minnesota – James Posey
In this world, McHale is a genius, and the best player on the board is Andrei Kirilenko. But taking Kirilenko after reaching for an unknown in Ginobili would get him fired. Also having Kirilenko and Garnett on the court at the same time would be too weird. That’s like 60 combined feet of skinny arms & legs. Terrell Brandon, Manu Ginobili, James Posey, Kevin Garnett, and Rasho Nesterovic – that’s a nice team for 2000.

#15 New York – Andrei Kirilenko
Ahhh to dream. The Knicks dared to take a European, but clearly the wrong one. In 2000, Kirilenko would have fit in well with that Knicks team giving them so much depth. The starters would have been Ward, Houston, Sprewell, LJ and Ewing with Camby, Kurt Thomas, Childs and Kirilenko off the bench. That’s one scary team defensively. Additionally AK-47’s arrival might have prevented the team from trading Ewing for Glenn Rice, keeping the franchise from self destruction via salary cap. Perhaps the 2001 Knicks with Camby starting, Ewing coming off the bench, the addition of Mark Jackson, and Kirlenko instead of Rice could have given the team another title run.

#16 Chicago – Andre Miller
Here are your early aughts Bulls: Andre Miller, Jamal Crawford, Toni Kukoc, Elton Brand, and Brad Miller. Not a bad rebuild post-Jordan. Try not to break that team up this time.

LeBron Championship Unlikely To Affect Free Agency Destination

With their 8th straight losing season on the books for the New York Knicks, many of their fans are looking towards 2010 when a host of free agents could break that streak. While it’s possible that the Knicks could reach 41 wins next year, the quickest route to become a serious playoff contender will be finding a top notch free agent next summer. Of course at the head of the class is LeBron James who on his own would make New York an instant playoff team. Although James has shown an affinity for the Big Apple, I wonder how a championship could affect his 2010 address. There usually seems to be two circumstances where a great player chooses to leave his team still near his prime. Either the superstar feels his current team won’t be able to deliver a championship within a few years, or he is tired of his current situation and is looking for a new city.

Examples of the former include Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, and Kevin Garnett. Nearing his prime, Barkley’s Sixers were 35-47 and far removed from the 58 win team from Sir Charles’ rookie season. Barkley forced a trade to Phoenix where he propelled the team all the way to the NBA Finals. Similarly Drexler’s Trailblazers were two and a half seasons removed from their best teams. Portland had reached the Finals in 2 out of 3 years from 1990 to 1992, but had suffered a couple of first round exits since. Drexler was traded during the 1995 season to the Rockets and teamed with Olajuwon for a title. Kevin Garnett was stuck with perennial loser Minnesota until McHale decided to help out his alma mater Boston, and the Big Ticket won a championship in his first year in Green.

On the other hand, there are examples of superstars leaving winning teams. Shaq’s first time was with a 60 win Orlando team that had lost to the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, and Houston in the Finals the year prior. O’Neal left for an average Laker squad who wouldn’t get back to the Finals for 4 seasons. Eight years later, Shaq would leave his 56 win Lakers for a 42 win Miami team. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s tenure in Milwaukee was mostly successful. In his 6 seasons, the Bucks averaged 57 wins and Abdul-Jabbar won a championship in 1971 with the team. His final season in Milwaukee was a losing one (where Kareem only appeared in 65 games), but that wasn’t why Kareem was moved. He requested to be traded to New York or Los Angeles to fit his cultural needs.

Unfortunately for Knick fans, LeBron’s chances of leaving are lessened due to Cleveland’s strong play. If the Cavs had a wretched crew around James, he might seek to leave for greener pastures like Barkley, Drexler, or Garnett. While Cleveland does have an aging front court in Ilgauskas (33 yrs), Ben Wallace (34), and Joe Smith (33), most of their roster is under 30. Of their top minute getters Williams, Varejao, Gibson, and West are all under 27 years of age. Barring an unforeseen disaster, Cleveland will stay in title contention until 2010.

So if LeBron leaves Cleveland, he’ll fit in the latter category of athlete looking to expand his horizons. In the cases of Shaq and Kareem, the superstar left because they preferred not to be in their current locale. Shaq’s first exodus was due to a desire to be in the bright lights of Los Angeles, while his second was to distance himself from a contentious teammate. For Abdul-Jabbar, he wanted a more heterogeneous environment than his midwestern municipality could offer. In these cases it didn’t matter if a player had won a title in that city, because their motivation was based on their personal life. New York’s best chance for a happy summer of 2010 rests on LeBron’s wanderlust. If James’ desire to become a man of the world compels him to leave for a bigger locale, then there’s little the Buckeye State could do to contain him. In this situation, a championship will have little bearing on his destination.