If True, Walsh Move a Step Forward

Although there has been no official word, a few different sources have reported that the Knicks have hired Donnie Walsh to oversee their franchise. Walsh isn’t the sexy move that Colangelo or West would have been, and his tenure in Indiana isn’t without it’s flaws. However for the Knicks in the Dolan era, playing it safe shows a marked improvement.

Since Dolan took sole possession, many of the the Knicks moves have been risky get rich quick schemes. Some of the hallmark transactions include trading for Glenn Rice, Antonio Mcdyess, Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, Eddy Curry, and Zach Randolph. If these deals have one thing in common, it’s that each one failed to account for the Knicks long term future. Rice was exchanged in favor of Patrick Ewing’s massively expiring contract. McDyess was gotten in lieu of the #8 pick (Nene). Meanwhile the rest took away the Knicks financial flexibility, not to mention four first round picks and a few young players. But despite surrendering all this, New York finds itself at the bottom of the league hoping to lose games in order to get a better draft pick.

During Walsh’s tenure, the Pacers rarely went for the big move. The early ’90s Pacers were built primarily through the draft. Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, Antonio Davis, and Dale Davis were taken in successive years. Meanwhile the early ’00s Pacers were constructed through shrew trades. Walsh paid pennies on the dollar for Jermaine O’Neal (Dale Davis) and Ron Artest (Jalen Rose & Travis Best). These deals are the antithesis of the recent New York acquisitions.

Compared to Walsh, Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas were inexperienced, impatient, and incompetent GMs. Fans were happy at the trade deadline this year when New York didn’t make any deals. Not because the team didn’t need to move players, but because Isiah Thomas didn’t have a chance to further damage the team. With Walsh at the helm, New Yorkers won’t hold their collective breaths anytime the ESPN ticker announces a Knick trade. If Donnie Walsh assumes the helm, he will be the first capable GM in the James Dolan era. And that’s a small step forward for a franchise wrapping up its 8th straight losing season.

2/29 Two Quick Links

NYSUN: Vandeweghe Would Succeed Only if Isiah Isn’t Around

[Vandeweghe’s] record does come with some warts. He served as general manager of the Nuggets from 2001 through 2006, helping to rebuild Denver from a lottery team into a playoff contender. The key deal was, not surprisingly, a trade with the Knicks — he got Marcus Camby and the rights to big man Nene from New York in return for Antonio McDyess. He also made a solid move when he signed point guard Andre Miller to a free-agent deal.
However, the rest of his résumé looks spottier. He gave up three first-round picks in the sign-and-trade deal with New Jersey for Kenyon Martin, and Martin’s seven-year, $91 million contract has been one of the league’s worst values. He also passed on Amare Stoudemire in the 2002 draft … twice. One of them was the Nene choice, and the other was all-time bust Nikoloz Tskitishvili.
That said, if he’s hired by the Knicks his biggest move will be choosing the next coach … or rather, that’s what it should be. If he’s stuck with Isiah, he probably won’t accomplish much.
Nonetheless, it would offer a very slight glimmer of hope that perhaps things might get less awful. He’d presumably have the power to start trading the many misshapen pieces of this roster. And one hopes, at least, he’d have Dolan’s commitment to a genuine rebuilding project as opposed to the slapdash quick fix Isiah tried when he took over.
But it’s puzzling that Dolan can’t realize the huge public relations boost he’d get from cutting the cord with Isiah entirely. The fan base would be rejuvenated, to the point that they’d actually be willing to sit tight and support the team through the inevitable multi-year rebuilding job.

Diminishing Returns and the Value of Offensive and Defensive Rebounds
More Diminishing Returns

In some ways I think this study provides stronger evidence for the impact of diminishing returns on defensive rebounding than my previous post. The charts allow one to easily see the effects of diminishing returns, and by looking at the rebounding of all the players in each lineup, the issues brought up by coaches potentially pairing good rebounders with poor rebounders are largely eliminated.

The specific marginal values found of 0.8 for offensive rebounds and 0.3 for defensive rebounds are also interesting. These match closely with how John Hollinger’s PER weights offensive rebounds relative to defensive rebounds (ORB are weighted by the league DRB%, which is around 0.7, and DRB are weighted by the league ORB%, which is around 0.3). And again, these values suggest that Dave Berri’s Wins Produced greatly overvalues players with high defensive rebounding percentages and undervalues players with low defensive rebounding percentages because the system assumes that each player DRB contributes a full DRB on the team level. Alternative Win Score (or AWS), the variation on Wins Produced suggested by Dan Rosenbaum in his paper, “The Pot Calling the Kettle Black”, weights ORB at 0.7 and DRB at 0.3. While these values are based on an assumption and not backed by evidence (just like Berri’s assumption that both should be weighted at 1 is not backed by any evidence), the evidence from the study I have done here (and Cherokee_ACB’s study) suggests that AWS (and PER) may be a lot closer to the mark on rebounding than Wins Produced.

Report: Thomas’ Job Safe

Now, this report really does not come as much of a surprise to most of us, as it appears fairly evident that Dolan is fully prepared to let Isiah coach (apparently) indefinitely, but it is still a shame to have the idea specifically shot down.

Again, though, Dolan is really more of a problem here than Isiah, probably, and since none of the good GM choices out there would be willing to take the Knicks job so long as Dolan continues to be so hands-on as an owner, so I guess it really does not much matter if Isiah stays or goes.

It sure would make for a nice bit of PR though, wouldn’t it?

The Worst Article Of 2007

Folks it’s about that time of year again, to announce the worst article of 2007. While there were many fine candidates throughout the year there’s one article that was published just 2 days ago that has surpassed all others. I’m proud to say that this work is right up there with previous winners such as Charlie Rosen’s most overrated list, and Frank Hughes 2004 piece. The winner for KnickerBlogger’s worst article of 2007 is brought to us by Lou V. of paperbacknovel titled “Why the Knicks Don’t Suck.. Anymore, But the NY Post and NY Daily News Do (Suck).”

I don’t know what the internet comparable version of “don’t judge a book by it’s color”, but maybe it should be “judge an article by it’s title.” It certainly applies to this year’s worst article winner. Notice the improper use of the ellipsis (two dots instead of three), and how the author has to add the final “(Suck)” in parenthesis because he decided to throw in the word “Anymore”. If the author wanted a better title, he could have dropped both words for a simpler title: “Why the Knicks Don’t Suck, But the NY Post and NY Daily News Do.” But why go for clarity when you’re aiming for much lower?

While I have to admit I thought at first that this would be an Onion-esque satirical piece, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t. The author, Lou V., starts off by bashing the local media for “getting their [readers’] attentions off real economic and political issues by parading sports and the lottery in front of them.” A reasonable start to an article, as I’ve certainly taken my shots at the mainstream news. Unfortunately he follows it with this monstrocity:

… the Knicks are fine. They remain as they were to start the season — a young, athletic team with guys who can score; they have great chemistry, believe in their coach, and are progressively playing better defense… They’re not a championship team yet, but they’re a good team; a playoff-caliber team.

I guess if you’re going to define “good” as being one of the worst teams in the league, then the 5-11 Knicks are good. By those standards, the 6-10 Clippers are great, the 7-8 Bucks are awesome and the 8-9 Nets are unbeatable. Just about the only thing true in these sentences is that the Knicks are a young athletic team with guys who can score. They do not have good chemistry, and they certainly don’t believe in their coach. Their defense hasn’t progressively improved, in fact it’s been about the same for the last 2 years. No the Knicks aren’t a championship team. No the Knicks aren’t a good team. No the Knicks aren’t a playoff-caliber team. Of course the author throws in this nugget in the same paragraph: “… James Dolan, owner, who has proven to be a stand-up, moral guy …” More on that later.

In his next section Lou V is a bit more sensible. Lou talks about how Isiah was “castigated” by the Renaldo Balkman selection, and states that Larry Brown was viewed favorably due to racism. There’s definitely a valid point to be made with Balkman. Many in the mainstream media criticized Thomas relentlessly for the selection, one that is looking better and better by the day. And yes claiming Larry Brown was liked not because he is one of the better coaches of his generation, flaws and all, because of the color of his skin is one of the more reasonable claims of this column. Read on.

The next section titled “Why Isiah Thomas Doesn’t Suck” is laughable. The author claims that “Isiah has turned the Knicks around in 3 years at the helm as GM.” and “Most GM’s in the NBA would exchange their best three big men for [Curry-Randolph-Lee]in a heartbeat.” I guess you could debate that Isiah has only been around for 3 years, since he is 19 days short of his fourth season. However what’s not debatable is that he’s turned the team around. The Knicks have only bested their ’03 record of 37 wins once in Isiah’s tenure, and are on track for only 25 wins this season.

But it’s the author’s second assertion that has me thinking. How many teams would trade their top 3 big men for the Knicks? Well I think I can safely omit Boston, Orlando, Toronto, San Antonio, Phoenix, Utah, Dallas, and Houston due to their star power at those positions. I might add Miami (Shaq), Chicago (Ben, Thomas, Noah + didn’t want Curry in the first place), Denver (Camby, Nene, K-Mart), Clippers (Brand), Portland (Oden), and Memphis (Gasol). Then there are teams where these three wouldn’t fit in like Golden State (Nellie-ball), and Detroit (‘Sheed/McDyess). Not counting teams that wouldn’t do it for reasons of fiscal irresponsibility, I count 16 teams that wouldn’t trade for our trio tower. Of course I guess a team like the Nets or Lakers might (Bynum?), so Knick fans might want to put in an order for that Kwame Brown or Nenad Krstic jersey they’ve been pining for.

What puts this article at the top of my list is the sidebar containing “Isiah Thomas’s Knicks’ Resume.” Some of the gems:

“Zach Randolph and Fred Jones for Channing Frye? This may go down as one of the great Knick trades ever.”

“Acquired Tim Thomas from Milwaukee and center Nazr Mohammed from Atlanta in a three-team trade…. Mohammed played some good ball in NY, but then helped Isiah rebuild with the trade listed below this one. Tim Thomas played some ball in NY, but then helped Isiah get Eddy Curry from Chicago. This Feb 2004 trade was a fantastic setup trade for the Knicks.”

“Despite the criticisms, Marbury has played a lot of all-star basketball in NY. The final word is still out on this trade as there is still that conditional 1st-round pick hanging out there in 2009 or 2010 that Phoenix gets from NY, but so far, NY got Stephon Marbury for a bunch of crap — including Knick-franchise-of-the-future-according-to-Stu-Laden, Michel Lampe. Penny Hardaway was used by Knicks to help get Stevie Francis, who was used to help get Zach Randolph. Phoenix used this trade to get $7-million under the cap, enabling them to sign free agent Steve Nash, and catapulting them to an elite team. This trade looks good for both teams right now, for different reasons.”

The Knicks best trades of all time: Dave DeBusschere for Bellamy; Riordan and Stallworth for Monroe; Oakley for Camby; and Zach for Frye? Um yeah… The author also credits Isiah for drafting Trevor Ariza and Demitrius Nichols, ignoring the fact that the first was traded and the second’s expulsion from the club was a classic blunder.

Not to be outdone, the author concludes with “Why James Dolan Doesn’t Suck.” He states that “Dolan’s handling of the Anucka Browne Sanders case is prototypical of his high moral fiber.” I guess I couldn’t have said that better myself.

Just Call Me Charlie Brown

You know, maybe I these guys are just going to concentrate on basketball now and just play...

Back in the halcyon days of the beginning of the week I found my self thinking, “Maybe Lucy’s right. Maybe these guys are starting to come to an understanding; it’s time to just come together and play. This may not be a playoff team, but there’s no reason it has to be a laughingstock.”

What the hell was I thinking?

What the hell was I thinking?

What the hell was I thinking, indeed?

Once again I find myself laying flat on my proverbial back. I’ll be damned if Lucy didn’t pull the ball away right before I could kick it yet again. How could I have been such a fool?

If you’re lucky, you watched the Cowboys and Packers last night, or were out at a happy hour or a birthday party and missed the whole thing. If you’re only partially lucky like me, you got home and turned the game on in the second half and at least were spared the indignity of actually watching Boston build a 50 point lead. I say only partially lucky because I turned on the game, saw the score, yet remained transfixed. I managed to change the channel to Rutgers/Louisville but kept coming back, hoping for an 8-0, 10-0, 12-0, ego-salvaging garbage-time run that never came. A friend of mine once described a similar experience with perhaps Spike Lee’s worst film, Girl 6. “Dave,” she said, “it was so bad I was paralyzed. I couldn’t turn it off. I just knew it couldn’t possibly be this bad. It had to get better. It never did.”

Even Martin Johnson’s sage words from earlier in the day to forget about the Celts and concentrate on the Bucks were rendered immaterial by what transpired at the Watering Hole. You lose by 20-30 points and Johnson’s absolutely correct; you just move onto the Bucks. You lose by nearly 50 and its existential crisis time. With all due respect to the Celtics, scoring only 59 points and losing by almost 50 isn’t about talent disparity. It’s about despair. It’s about a fundamental absence of trust that seems to be ripping apart the spirit of this team–with Thomas and Marbury both outfitted with Freddy Krueger-style finger razors. Hearing Thomas chastise the team for selfish behavior at the post game presser is so rich it’s not even ironic anymore; it’s tragic comedy.

A quick random stream of consciousness… I kept wondering why Q-Rich came up with the “Boston isn’t all that” bulletin board material. It seemed so ill-timed, particularly considering the source. Richardson isn’t Paul LoDuca or Billy Wagner. He’s not especially outspoken, nor is he prone to quotable quotes born out of frustration. But I think I get it now. I suspect those quotes were born from desperation not frustration; a feeble attempt to rally a team falling apart at the seams despite its recent victories. Of course I may be reading too much into that. Maybe he just hates the Celtics.

In any event, those of you familiar with Boston metro’s twisted, spaghetti-style “system” of roads are probably also familiar with the phrase, “you can’t get there from here.” When I moved there in the summer of 2000 I quickly became acquainted with it because it is quite literally true. You can be within eyesight of your destination but simply unable to access it from where you are. I suppose that is a fitting metaphor for our beloved Knickerbockers. We just can’t get there from here.

Fire Thomas? Sure, but it’s deeper than that. If Marbury is allowed to outlast yet another coaching/management regime playing by his own rules he really will be in charge of this franchise. That is a fate worse than anything I can imagine.

Get rid of Dolan. Okay, but how? Why would the owners, who employ David Stern, empower him to rid the league of such an easy mark? Maybe the old man gets involved and cleans house. But that seems less and less likely with each passing loss, given the woeful start.

Get used to the view from on your back Knick faithful. It’s gonna get a whole lot worse before it gets better. Maybe I’ll start my college player watch after the holiday.

Now Is The Time

Isiah Thomas should be fired. Now. I know it’s only 9 games into the season. And I know that this road trip was brutal. I also know that the next few games are against tough opponents: Golden State, Detroit, Chicago, and Utah. All these teams were in the second round last year. And I know the East has gotten better.

I know that Isiah is a wonderful drafter. I might even dare say he’s possibly the best drafter of all time. Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, Tracy McGrady, David Lee, Nate Robinson, Mardy Collins, Trevor Ariza, and Wilson Chandler. That’s a fantastic team – and off the top of my head I can’t think of any GM that has done better with less in terms of drafting.

I know that the Knick team he inherited was a mess. The NBA’s worst salary cap, with little talent, and no young prospects. Scott Layden’s tenure was awful in New York. He took a near-championship level team, and turned them into a void. And I know this team is better than the one Isiah inherited nearly 4 years ago. I know Isiah wanted a younger and more athletic team. I can’t argue that this team isn’t younger and more athletic. That’s without a doubt.

I know that Isiah has been hit with a string of bad luck. Even Hollinger thought Marbury was a near-All Star around the time the Knicks acquired him. And who thought that a pair of Hall of Fame caliber coaches in Lenny Wilkens and Larry Brown would end up the way they did. OK I might have thought Wilkens would have ended that way, but Larry Brown?

I know all these things. Yet the bottom line remains: this team isn’t a winner. Under Isiah’s tenure, the Knicks have finished with 39, 33, 23, and 33 wins. This year they’ve started off 2-7. And things don’t look to get better. Not with their upcoming schedule.

Dolan gave Isiah his extension early on an impulse. Just when the team was doing the opposite they are now – looking really good. At the time, their win streak put them into the playoffs and seemingly showed that the team had turned the corner. However things are as bleak as they can be. The season has barely begun, and it’s nearly over for New Yorkers. Coming off the heels of an embarrassing summer, and as nearly embarrassing controversy with their point guard. Coming off a road trip where they dropped 4 straight games, the last one by 32. Coming off of 6 straight losses.

Everything is in place for an Isiah exit. Grunwald can take over as GM. Herb Williams is still around to coach. The team is better off than they were 4 years ago. There are some good young players and assets to build on. The only thing left is finding the time to do it. And the time is now.