According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Houston Rockets, New York Knicks, and Sacramento Kings have struck a deal. For the Knicks, it is another step in the plan initiated by Donnie Walsh to curb foolish spending and aim towards free agency. For the Rockets, it is the dawn of a new day, the divorce from an era, and perhaps one of the greatest hauls in franchise history. For the Kings it is space for their rising star Tyreke Evans with regards to the court and perhaps a superstar to team him with. Ironically all teams make this swap looking to the future, but requiring different elements to do so. Mike Kurylo of KnickerBlogger.Net, Rahat Huq of Red94.Net, and Zach Harper of Cowbell Kingdom get together to discuss the teams, the players, and the ramifications of the deal.
To the Rockets
Kevin Martin – $44 million left, expires in 2013
Jordan Hill – $5.1 million left, expires in 2012 (team option for 2014)
Jared Jeffries – $13.3 million left, expires in 2011
Option to Swap 1st round with NYK in 2011 (top 1 protection)
NYK 2012 1st round pick (top 5 protection)
To the Kings
Carl Landry – $3 million left, expires in 2010 (team options for $3 million for 2011 season)
Joey Dorsey – $1.7 million left, expires in 2011 (team option for $1 million for 2012 season), partially guaranteed in 2011 season
Larry Hughes -$13.7 million left, expires in 2010
To the Knicks
Tracy McGrady – $22.8 million left, expires in 2010
Sergio Rodriguez -$1.6M, expires in 2010 (team option for $2.3M in 2011)
Zach: Kevin Martin was in a lose-lose situation once we saw a glimpse into just what Tyreke Evans could be (November 7th road win in Utah). Martin was going to have to comeback perfectly and he certainly didn’t do so. Upon his return, he struggled with his own scoring at a time in which the Kings were starting to collapse. Martin’s greatest strength has always been getting to the line for easy points and this year he’s only been getting there seven times per game (7.2 fta/36). While seven free throw attempts seems like a lot for most players, it’s the lowest total he’s averaged in four years. That’s what Kevin Martin does; he scores easy points. He finds open spots on the floor, runs off of high screens perfectly and tosses up that funny looking jump shot. You expect it to clank off the side of the backboard because of the shooting motion. Instead, it usually rips through the net as part of the quietest most efficient 25 points per game you’ll see on a nightly basis. He struggled to do that this year on Tyreke Evans’ team. It turned into a treasonous act in the minds of some Kings fans who probably never thought he’d actually be traded.
Rahat: I think Martin’s skillset will fit beautifully into this Rockets team’s motion offense. While he isn’t the creating wing I felt this team needs, he will be a huge boost to this offense.
In Carl Landry, the Kings are receiving one of the most effective inside scorers in the league (career TS% of .630) and the probable 6th-man of the year. Landry is a tireless worker. He relentlessly attacks the offensive glass. However, he is a poor defensive rebounder and his totals have been trending downwards.
The evolution of Carl’s offensive repertoire has been startling. He came into the league as merely a garbageman, using his extreme athleticism to hang around the basket for easy openings off of passes from Tracy McGrady. But his athleticism has declined since that rookie season as he re-aggravated a serious injury from college. While he is still athletic, he no longer appears freakish like he once did. In his second year, Landry showed off an ability to face up and take his man off the dribble and developed a deadly mid-range jumper. Due to his size, we thought this would be the extent of his capabilities. The real surprise has come this year as Carl is now a very effective post scorer, showing off an arsenal of fadeaway jumpers and hooks off of either block. He has struggled against fronting and double teams in recent weeks but it is unclear whether this is merely due to unfamiliarity with these new approaches.
Finally, Carl has never been a good defender. Though he is described as ‘physical’, he does not hold his ground well in the post and is easily mauled over by larger power forwards. He is also a poor shot-blocker.
Mike: Rahat, earlier in the season you said McGrady “has looked bad” and that “he’s not helping” the Rockets. Do you think he’ll help the Knicks?
Rahat: Overall, he looked bad. However, this was quite some time ago. It’s anyone’s guess right now if the struggles were due to permanent physical regression or rust/the natural readjustment after surgery. He was still surprisingly effective as an individual defender, never really getting beat laterally. (This was pretty odd as he seemed to have little to no explosion offensively.) The problem for us was that this Rockets team wins through pace and hustle. McGrady was too slow to keep up on the break and made little effort to help defensively – that wasn’t going to cut it here. It’s tough to say whether he will help the Knicks because there is the possibility that he was able to work off more of the rust during his latest hiatus. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. His days as a frontline star are over, but I think he can still be a factor, situationally.
Mike: If you were D’Antoni, how would you use him in the offense?
Rahat: I’m not completely familiar with the Knicks’ offense so I can only assess McGrady’s capabilities. Primarily what he brings, contrary to popular belief, is passing. For McGrady, the passing will always be there – he’s the best passing wing this league has ever seen, rivaled only by James. It was remarkable to see that even in his regressed state, he could still effectively create plays for his teammates. Just absolutely remarkable. He can hold the ball at the key, in stationary position, and blindly hit cutters without needing to actually beat his man off the dribble. He also never makes mistakes. It’s never been mentioned, but as far as court IQ, he’s in the league’s top 99th percentile.
As for the rest of his game:
He can still create space for his jumper because he is so incredibly skilled/coordinated: he uses a jab step-left to free himself for his pet shot at the elbow. Unfortunately, he is not a good shooter (TS% of .487% in his last healthy season; bottom 5th in league) so this is not an aspect of his game one’s offense would want to feature.
Interestingly, while most of his shots come in motion off his own dribble, he might actually be a far better set shooter. He looked very good on the few set shots he took last year, but he rarely attempts them. We will also need to see how much lift he has on his shot upon return, because for McGrady, that is crucial. He has looked flat in recent years and that has contributed to his drastic decline.
Moving on, McGrady struggles scoring off the catch/curl/cut. In fact, he is the antithesis of a “willing cutter.” To be effective, he has to have the ball in his hands.
Mike: As I said earlier, one way I would advocate the Knicks acquiring McGrady was if he were able to push Duhon to the bench. Duhon has just killed New York this year, especially with regards to scoring in the paint – going as far as passing up open layups. Honestly I think Duhon is probably the worst NBA player I’ve ever seen with regards to scoring inside.
With that in mind, how has McGrady been with respect to:
1. Scoring inside?
2. Playing point guard?
1. Scoring inside – even when healthy, scoring inside has been Tracy McGrady’s achilles heel since I have been following him. Hard to believe because we all remember the dunks from his younger days. As he has aged, most likely out of fear, he just simply avoids driving to the basket at all costs. This includes the 4th quarter of Game 7’s with opponents in the penalty. If you look at my game analysis during his return, he did valiantly try to drive to the hole on certain occasions, much more aggressively than in years past, most likely in hopes of assuaging the concerns of watching eyes. The problem was that he simply did not have even a modicum of explosion. As I said earlier, that could possibly change as the leg builds strength, but his fear of contact will not. Even moreso than help defense, inside scoring is the last thing one can hope to expect from Tracy McGrady.
2. Playing point guard – At this point in Tracy’s career, based on what I saw in those games, I think he can only be effective in this league as a point guard. He doesn’t shoot well enough to justify a role at the ‘2.’ If he’s on the court, to offset some of the negatives, you want to be utilizing his passing for a net gain. So I could see him as sort of an extreme-new-age version of Ron Harper (of Chicago Bulls three-peat fame) going forward.
There’s two problems: 1) I’m still not sure it would work unless it was Fratello’s Cavs. Tracy won’t push the pace. For this reason, you could use him off the bench, but I don’t see it happening as a starter. 2) He doesn’t have a prayer against 1’s defensively. You would need to mask that by pairing him with a 2 capable of taking those duties. In his return, I never saw him get beat laterally, but this was in defending bulky small forwards. It won’t work against NBA point guards.
Mike: The Knicks defensive schemes have a lot of switching, so individual match-ups don’t matter as much. However New York just traded three guys that could have played alongside McGrady well. Jared Jeffries, Nate Robinson, and Larry Hughes all could have guarded the point guard position, allowing T-Mac to run the offense while defending a wing. Additionally Jeffries/Hughes would have given New York a lengthy lineup, while Nate Robinson could have been inserted alongside T-Mac as a shooting guard and be freed of trying to play point.
Duhon has been the Achilles Heel on offense, but the problem is no one else was able to step up. D’Antoni tried Hughes and Robinson, but the coach has little patience with shooting guards masquerading as points. With McGrady as possibility at point guard, and adding Sergio Rodriguez, perhaps D’Antoni can end Duhon’s stranglehold on the starting spot.
Zach: Sergio Rodriguez will be perfect for a team like New York that has nothing of substance at the point guard position. He pushes the tempo, pulls passes out of orifices and finds a way to make a positive impact. He’s the Kings leader in +/- this year and it’s legit. When he’s on the court, he makes things happen. Is he going to be able to defend anybody? Not a chance. Not to mention, his jumper is suspect. But he is a facilitator that will be fun to watch for Knicks fans.
Rahat: Tell me about Jordan Hill. Is this someone upon whom I can pin future hopes? In my diligent investigations prior to the consummation of this deal, what I gathered led me to the conclusion that he most likely sucks. Is this a fair assessment?
Mike: I have to say I was very down on the drafting of Hill. A few statistical evaluations had him as being overrated by the scouts, and the Knicks sorely needed a point guard (see my rant on Duhon above). Hill is raw, which is a bit of a red flag for a guy that didn’t come out as a underclassmen. Watching him I’ve been slightly impressed compared to my low expectations, so I think the word “sucks” is a bit of a stretch. He certainly has the athleticism to be a good NBA player. Hill can rebound & block shots, and he does have an outside jumper.
The big problem is his inside scoring – he seems to shy away from the hoop and use fade aways instead of going strong. Even when he has a point blank shot, he’ll occasionally miss. It’s like Hill has no clue how to score in the paint. Additionally, he’s a little lost on the defensive end, but you expect that from any first year player. Off the top of my head, I’d say he’s a less heady and less polished Kurt Thomas. From the three minutes I spent interviewing him he’s a happy-go-lucky nice guy, which means he doesn’t have Kurt’s mean streak either.
Rahat: Henry Abbott wrote a piece earlier in the year on Jared Jeffries, describing his defensive impact on the court. Is he a zero offensively? Just how bad is he? Perhaps even more importantly, does he know his limitations? Offensively, there’s Shane Battier-bad and Trevor Ariza-bad. The latter can be disastrous and painful to watch.
Mike: Jeffries has exactly one skill on the offensive side – rebounding. Earlier I said Chris Duhon is the worst NBA scorer in the paint I ever witnessed, well Jeffries is a close second. It’s baffling at 6-11 how many shots from point blank he’ll miss. Throw in the turnovers and he’s not a zero but rather a complete negative on that side of the court. Jeffries does seem to know this and often will pass up open opportunities, but I think the coaching staff is encouraging him to take open shots & drives. He’s been doing more of that this year, but without much success.
He does bring a lot on the defensive side, but don’t expect a lock down defender ala Ron Artest or a fly swatter like Josh Smith. Just a smart guy that will take a bunch of charges, can cover just about anybody, and will do more good than bad.
As for Larry Hughes, he can still defend on the wing a little, but his offense just isn’t there anymore. He had a hot streak earlier this year, and D’Antoni used him often. But once his luck vanished, so did his playing time. Perhaps he’ll get some burn in Sacramento and will finally be able to shave his beard. But I’m guessing for the Kings, this move isn’t about Larry Hughes.
Zach: I think the move has two huge components. The Kings now have great flexibility in the years before Tyreke Evans gets to start thinking extension. I know that’s a bit extreme considering we’re still in his rookie campaign but this franchise will be built around him and Geoff Petrie just got as close to a blank slate as he’s ever going to get. So yes, in a way this was largely a move for cap space. Secondly, the Kings just acquired their best low post scorer since Chris Webber (and he kept hanging around the elbow). Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes are full of potential and hope but Carl Landry is a guy that will get results. Not only does he produce in the post but he does it at a cheap price. At some point in the next year, Sacramento will get to decide if he is worth keeping, how much it will cost and where he fits into the core. And they get a nice window to judge everything properly. If they don’t think it will work out long-term there will be dozens and dozens of NBA teams wanting to acquire his Bird Rights and scoring ability. The Kings just became the biggest transaction player for the next year. That’s the biggest impact of all of this.
Mike: You could argue that the Rockets got the best player in this deal. So how do you feel about it?
Rahat: I’m simply speechless right now. I haven’t yet taken this all in. It was a good deal when it was just, essentially, Landry for Martin. But the Knicks’ part of our haul? Daryl Morey might have just rebuilt this entire franchise in one swoop this afternoon. I don’t think I can appropriately articulate the significance of this move in this space provided.
Mike: Funny thing is that I’m not crazy about this trade from the Knicks perspective. I feel as if New York is paying too much for getting out of Jeffries’ contract, perhaps if it were the useless and more expensive Eddy Curry I would be OK with it. Sending any one of Jordan Hill, a first round pick, or an option to swap firsts seems reasonable to unload his contract. But all three seem to be overkill. On top of it, according to NBA salary cap expert Larry Coon, even with this trade New York can’t sign two max guys and keep David Lee. Perhaps being able to get a second near max guy (for ~ $14.8M) is the thing that puts them over the top for signing LeBron, but it’s an awful big risk.
I know I’m in the minority with my opinion, and perhaps I’m more optimistic on the Knicks chances of grabbing a top free agent without this move. I’m not against moving Jeffries, obviously, I’m just against the cost. Here’s one final thing for Knick fans to consider: what does the team do with McGrady if he’s a good fit for D’Antoni’s offense? Do the Knicks consider re-signing him in the summer considering McGrady’s injury history? How much, or rather how little, will McGrady take to stay? Lots of things to keep New Yorkers buzzing while the other half of the league is in the playoffs.