Report: Allan Houston to be next Knicks GM?

Jared Zwerling, one of Bleacher Report’s newest NBA writers, reported yesterday that the Knicks’ shocking decision to relieve Glenn Grunwald of his role earlier this week is, potentially, good news for former Knick and current assistant general manager Allan Houston.

According to Zwerling and his sources, the Knicks are likely grooming Houston to eventually take over for new GM Steve Mills in a couple of years.

This wouldn’t be a tremendous shock, considering Houston is the current Assistant GM, though that doesn’t make the abrupt Grunwald firing any less bizarre.

One of the sources Zwerling cites in the piece had this to say about Houston’s relationship with Knicks owner James Dolan.

“Dolan has always taken care of his former players, especially stars, which Allan was. I guarantee you he’s close to Allan just like Isiah Thomas and other former Knicks,”- Source #2.

We’ll probably never find out the real motivation behind the abrupt Grunwald dismissal by Dolan, but this might be the closest answer we get. Dolan is an odd guy, but he’s a guy who knows what he wants, and won’t hesitate to drastically change the course of the franchise to get it. If Zwerling’s source is accurate, and Houston’s relationship with Dolan is starting to mirror the one Isiah had(s), all the chaos this week will at least have some sort of rhyme or reason to it. On the surface, at least.

Houston has worked his way up the ladder under two very different GM’s with two very different philosophies in Grunwald and Donnie Walsh. He’s regarded highly by numerous players and executives, so perhaps Dolan zoning in on Houston being his guy to guide the franchise going forward won’t meet the same fate as the Isiah years.

Additionally, it might well be the case that Dolan — who nearly whiffed completely on the 2010 free agent class — wants to give Houston the position as the Knicks once again try and lure new stars to the Big Apple in 2015.

Lots of questions still remain, obviously, but the dust is certainly starting to settle. Maybe everything will be okay. Oh wait, it’s the Knicks, which means: PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

Summer 2010 Edition: Knicks Front Office On…

Some quotes from Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni from their media interview on 9/22/2010.

(on the offseason)

DW: I like what we did. There are guys out there. You get some you don’t (get some). We got Amar’e who is as good a player as we’ve had here in a long time. A 5 time All Star. And a guy that can dominate a game a guy that can get what he wants by his will. He can just do it. So that was a good get. I thought Raymond was a very good get.

Then the rest of the team whether by trade or by free agency, we filled in some of the blanks that we had. I think we’re a bigger team. We’re very flexible in the sense where we can play big or small. I think we have players that fit in with what Mike (D’Antoni) does a lot better than we’ve had because they’re athletic.

I think we’ve got some young players, the average age is 24.6. We have some young players that will get better. So I’m excited. I just told Allan that it was like when I was in college, and you go out and recruit these guys and then go watch them play when they come in the fall, and that’s the same feeling that I have (now). There’s an excitement to seeing (new players). (There are) 10 new players on this team. Which is going to be a lot of work for Mike D’Antoni. But they came early, a lot of these guys came early. They seem committed to becoming a team. They’re professionals. They work hard. So, I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen so far. Now the real (work) starts. And we’ll see how we are I think we can be a good team. But it’s going to take a lot of work.

(on Eddy Curry)

DW: Players don’t have to come in during the summer. And what I’ve tried to do over the years is not make any judgment on that. But wen they come they have to be in shape. I’m going to be optimistic and think that he’s going to play. I know this when I was in Indiana. I’ll mention Reggie Miller. He never came in the summer. he came back the day before training camp, got his physical, but he was in shape. He had worked out all summer. There is no magic way to do it. For new guys and young guys (it’s important to) get acclimated to what we do.

I haven’t talked to him and I haven’t seen him. But I get word floating that Eddy’s working. That’s what I hear.

(on whether his trainers have been out to see Curry this summer)

DW: No. No matter what we do it’s going to come down to what you do with your career. He assured me that he’d take care of it. So I’m not going to be bugging him all summer like I did the year before. So we’ll see if that helps him. Some guys like it like that.

(on whether Curry can be a contributing player )

DW: I’m going to be optimistic about it. Because I never count a guy out personally.

(on whether the Knicks need him right now)

DW: Yeah. Eddy – we could have used him for the last 2 years. For a guy that big and that athletic he can be a force. And we haven’t had him the last two years because of injury. So you see when you don’t have a center out there it’s been a lot of pressure on David Lee. (Some) teams could kinda have their way with us.

(on Azubuike)

DW: He’s got one of the toughest injures for a basketball player. The patella tendon. He’s been here for 2 or 3 weeks and has worked form 9 to 5 every day trying to strengthen the leg… There’s always the danger of a setback. I don’t think he’ll be ready for training camp, but he could be ready for the regular season when that comes around. We have to see how it develops with him. The kid is working as hard as he possibly could. The trainer said the (better he is in shape), the better off he’ll be (when he returns from injury.)

(on Azubuike’s possible return)

DW: We’d be shooting for the beginning of the regular season. But if he has a setback. It’s a tough injury he’s got.

(if he’s running yet)

MD: He runs on the Alter-G it’s called. Where you only can get the 80% of your weight. So it like it lifts you up and let’s you run run without putting weight on it. And that’s all he’s done. He has not been on the court running.

DW: He was going to run on grass or something like that, I didn’t know if he had started that. That would be the next step.

(on whether there is a hole at off-guard, or any other position)

DW: No… We have players that can play the 2. One of the reasons we brought Patrick in (is because) he can defend the bigger twos. Not for the whole game, but for specific minutes. We’ll have to see how that develops. He’s better than he was before, he’s bigger and stronger, (an overall) better basketball player. I like our rookie (Fields) and obviously Chandler can play there and has played there. And I think he’ll be successful. Probably in college he played the 3. But most 2 guards can be successful. Fields probably in college he played the 3. Most big guards that played in college played 3. And they end up, if they’re good shooters, playing 2 guard in the NBA. I think Fields can make that adjustment and can do that. He has a lot of talent.

Unsung Knick History – The Knicks’ Version of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”

This is the third in a series (of indefinite length and regularity) of examinations into different games, events and decisions that impacted Knicks history in some way, shape or form. Stories that are not as famous as, say, LJ’s 4-point play or Willis Reed playing Game 7, but still have a place in Knicks history, especially for die-hard fans. Here is an archive of all the stories featured so far.

If you are unfamiliar with Shirley Jackon’s famous short story, “The Lottery,” well, you should probably stop reading this piece and go off and read that short story first, as A. It’s awesome and B. I’m about to spoil it for my analogy. In any event, in Jackson’s story, the reader discovers that the “lottery” that a small town is holding is actually to determine who gets stoned to death to ensure a good harvest for the town. Well, that was basically what the Knicks used their draft for over a strange five-year period from 1960-1964 where their five first round draft picks (all among the top three picks in the draft) played a combined eight seasons for the Knicks!! Getting drafted in the first three picks is normally a good thing, but for the Knicks draftees, like the “winners” in Jackson’s lottery, it was a sign of impending doom!
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The U.N. Intramural Squad Or Something More?

Standing outside Madison Square Garden some summers ago, near the atm’s, yards away from Gerry Cosby’s. Through the glass doors, newly hired Knicks boss Donnie Walsh walked out. I watched as he stood there, lit a cigarette, a Clifford Odetts character in the flesh, he shoulda been named Sydney. As in the guy with the job nobody else wanted, toiling under the boss the whole city smirked about, for a franchise in perpetual free-fall. The suit too big, the bags under the eyes, this was a guy, this Donnie Walsh, made Jeff Van Gundy look like Randy Couture. This Donnie Walsh was a guy, you see him in a bar and you’re compelled to buy him a drink, sit him down and tell him (a’la Tony Curtis in The Sweet Smell of Success), “the cat’s in the bag and the bag is in the river.” You tell him run for your life, it’s not too late to quit this job you have undertaken.

I shake his hand and wish him luck, mentioning to we share the same alma mater, Fordham Preparatory School in The Bronx. We alumni refer to it simply as “The Prep.” Learned a lot about patience at “The Prep.” Jesuits are part Obi Wan Kenobi, part F. Lee Ermey, the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket (may he rest in peace).

Donnie Walsh knows a lot about patience having learned from the best. He waited patiently before he removed Isiah Thomas as coach. The replacement, Mike D’Antoni, was known for his seven seconds or less offense, a perception of his teams lack of defense, international fame a result of years playing in Italy, and his ability to recruit all-star talent.

Donnie Walsh had a vision. He waited, traded away the Knicks best players, and watched the team lose to clear cap room and got the Knicks in position to pursue free agents. One can only guess that he painfully watched as several of the bigger names formed their own fantasy basketball camp in South Beach.

Those unsure of his vision for the team need only take a second look at the group now assembled in blue, orange and white. For just a second, forget about the “Chosen One” who chose not to be in the Knicks picture. Look instead at the team Walsh has assembled.

Because it might be that all Donnie Walsh has done is carve a team out of the same stone of which New York City is built. If he pulls it off, if this team wins, ignore the suit, dismiss the wheelchair, if he pulls this off cabbies should scream out “Donnie Basketball” as they drive by.

New York is and always has been a “melting pot” of cultures, religons, ideas, tastes, culinary delights, dances, dialects, music, sounds. Go to Little Italy, Harlem, Chinatown, the Theatre District, Wall Street, the energy is there, distinctive, bright colors, vibrant sounds… one bold experiment.

The 2010 New York Knicks for the first time in franchise history are an extension of the shared experiment that is New York. On the likely fifteen man roster, there’s an Italian, a Russian, a Canadian, a Frenchman (from Martinique), a German, a Londoner, a Jamaican… nearly half the roster are players with passports from their home nations. How will these guys pick what restaurant they eat out at together?

None of this is by accident. Donnie Walsh sought out a “team that made sense…” He sought out personality types as well as skill sets that when together might add up to a sum greater than the parts.

He also sought out individuals who were up to the challenge that is New York, who want to be here. Ask any native New Yorker or passing tourist: when you step out on the streets of New York, you had better be ready. The sidewalk warns “keep up, or get out of the way,” in about twenty different languages. You get the point, whether its a horn, a shout or a finger. At Madison Square Garden, the cheers don’t get any louder in the league, but the same can be said of the boos. On that stage you can become legendary or you can become infamous. In the case of John Starks you can become both. And in New York, you become that for life. Like being a “Parcells Guy.” Or playing for ” Mr. Torre.”

This current team, this 2010 edition seems special. Gallinari the Italian Knick, has in two years proven to be one of the top shooters in the NBA. It is no accident his nickname is “The Rooster,” an inference to his cockiness. The new aquisitions are long on edge. Turiaf, the Frenchman is a veteran willing to dispatch his limbs in the path of those bold enough to speed into his paint. Mozgov, the seven foot one Russian, has displayed a fire and flamboyance, a desire to dunk and block shots. And the Jamacian Jerome Jordan, a seven foot draftee joins him. Anthony Randolph, the German born player, is the simply the second coming of Marcus Camby, an uncanny dunker who posesses a jump shot that at his height is matched only by Kevin Durant. Azibuke, the Londoner, is smooth, among the best shooter/slasher the Knicks have had in a decade. The Canadian, draftee Andy Rautins, a coaches son, and a three point arsonist, who at Syracuse, played his college home games at Madison Square Garden.

They are led by All star Amare Stoudamire and Raymond Felton, both provide leadership and heart. The New York Knicks may have quietly turned the corner. The J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets finished a game away from the Superbowl as that team took on the attitude of its new coach.

This team, Donnie’s team, seems to be an extension of a vision, perhaps without a single name written on it, but rather characteristics, personality traits, skill sets.

How will they fare? Will they simply look like the United Nations Intramural squad, against say the Celtics? We’ll know soon. The New York Knicks will unveil their new look in Milan and Paris this fall as part of an NBA Global initiative. The anticipation is high. The Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Braves once laid claim to “America’s Team.”
Now the stage is set for the 2010 New York Knicks, The World’s Team.
Knick fans across the globe can dream of the playoffs in English, Italian, Russian, French, German or the language of their choice.

If they win, we should all give “Donnie Basketball” the credit for having the vision.

David: From Slingshot-Wielding Youth to King of the Garden

I wanted Chris Taft.

If you’re ever talking Knicks with me and I’m ragging on Isiah or Layden, talking about how unfathomable it was to draft Balkman with Rondo and Marcus Williams on the board and the Knicks without a point guard, killing the Steve Francis trade as simultaneously short-sighted and bad for the short term – basically talking like I could have done a better job running this team than the motley front office crew of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, you can always remind me of that one.

Holding the Phoenix Suns’ first round pick in the 2005 NBA Draft – thirtieth and last, thanks in part to futurebockers Mike D’Antoni and Amar’e Stoudemire – the New York Knicks selected a board-banging forward out of Florida named David Lee.  I was 19, and I was furious.*

*Granted, Isiah probably could have flipped Tim Thomas and Jackie Butler for Wilt Chamberlain and I would have found a reason to hate the move at that point.  I think we’re all about 10 years away from looking back on the 2004-2007 stretch as an extended period of Isiah-induced temporary insanity.  I am almost certain that it will eventually occur to Bernie Madoff to file an appeal on these grounds.

The Knicks were coming off a 33-49 season, their two best players were Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford, and they were years away from possessing even a glimmer of cap room.  If ever there was a time to swing for the fences with a draft pick, that was it.  And Chris Taft – an athletic, 6’10” prototype of a power forward, slated to go top-5 after his freshman year at Pitt before struggling through an ill-advised sophomore season and plummeting down draft boards under the weight of a reputation for being raw and immature – was there for the taking.  Here was a classic back-to-the basket four who could score in the post, rebound, block shots, and step out to the perimeter.  A flight risk to be sure but, on a team going nowhere, a risk worth taking.

But the final name David Stern announced before ceding the night’s emcee duties to Russ Granik was not Taft, it was Lee: a four-year senior who had averaged a workmanlike 11 and 7 in his time with the Gators and who projected to offer similarly steady but unspectacular production in a bench role for the Knicks.  For a team with absolutely nothing to get excited about, this seemed like a classic example of Isiah buying a nice new set of snow tires when he couldn’t afford a car (to say nothing of the fact that, in Kurt Thomas, the Knicks already possessed a set of the same model of snow tires, and a more broken-in set at that).  The pick was illogical, miscalculated, and hubristic.  And it was just about the only thing Isiah got right in his time at the helm.*

*I’ll spare you the effort of looking it up: Taft eventually went 42nd overall, somewhat coincidentally to the same Golden State Warriors that now employ Lee.  He played in 17 games, averaged 3 points and 2 rebounds, underwent back surgery and hasn’t played basketball professionally since 2006.  Again, remind me I wanted this guy the next time I criticize a personnel decision.

Lee was an absolute lock to be popular with a fan base whose conception of “The Good Old Days” was built on hustle, rebounding, efficient offense, and hard-nosed defense (let’s diplomatically say he went three for four on those criteria and move along).  He averaged 5 and 5 in 17 minutes as a rookie, usually sharing shifts with his pinballing classmate Nate Robinson.  The two formed a reckless bundle of hope and energy on a team that stumbled to a franchise-worst 59 losses under a wave of Marburian apathy and Jamal Crawford Fallaway Threes with Nineteen Seconds Left on the Shot Clock.™

Of the Knicks’ two most popular lineups that season, the one that had Marbury and Eddy Curry running with the young bucks was already vastly superior to the one including Steve Francis and two withering Roses (Jalen and Malik).  Moreover, the lineup that completely let the kids borrow the car keys was stunningly effective in limited minutes (especially stunning considering that it included such future Hall of Famers as Qyntel Woods and Jackie Butler).

Lee Chart 1

Unfortunately, nobody told Larry Brown about the youth movement and the Knicks most dynamic lineup got less than a full game’s worth of minutes together over the course of the entire 2005-2006 season.

Lee was far from a finished product that first year – his points all seemed to come via putbacks and dunks on the break, he looked positively terrified when he received the ball in the flow of the offense, and Brown’s trademark minute-jockeying prevented him from ever getting a feel for the NBA half court game on either end.  But man, could the dude rebound.  With every textbook box-out, weak-side swoop, and faceplant into Row AA, Lee ‘bounded and astounded his way deeper into our hearts.  After a decade of Knicks’ drafts in which Mike Sweetney and Trevor Ariza stood out as relative successes, this one-dimensional kid from St. Louis – with glue on his hands and springs in his shoes – was already everything we wanted him to be.

And then David Lee did something that, as Knicks fans, we’d forgotten we were entitled to expect.  He got better.  A LOT better.  At almost everything.

The first step for Lee was to build on his pre-existing strengths.  His 58% rookie free throw shooting clip was a major caveat for a player whose offensive hallmark was supposed to be efficient scoring.  Lee pulled this number all the way up to 82% in his sophomore campaign and it has remained in that neighborhood ever since.  His rebounding – merely a “very good” 9.7 per 36 minutes his rookie season – skyrocketed to 12.5 per 36 in 2006-2007, good for fifth in the league and best by a Knick since Willis Reed’s 12.6 in the 1970-1971 season (which is to say better than Ewing, better than Oakley, better than Camby or Mason or Bill Cartwright).  In fact, on a per-possession basis, Lee’s second year was the most efficient scoring and rebounding season in Knicks’ franchise history.*

Lee Chart 2

*Just to underline the point, the 23-year-old Lee’s 20.7% rebound rate means that he did the work of two average rebounders and his .652 true shooting percentage has been bettered by only three under-25 players in the last quarter century: Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrew Bynum, and Charles Barkley (who, incredibly, had already hit that mark 3 times by his the end of his age-25 year).  While Lee has yet to replicate either mark – and is unlikely to given his expanded repertoire – his rebound rate has never dipped below 17.5% and his true shooting percentage has remained above 58% in each subsequent season.

The Knicks felt the impact of Lee’s ultra-efficient production whenever he was on the court, as evidenced by on/off-court splits that compared favorably with more-highly touted and talented members of the 2010 free agent class of which Lee would eventually become a part:

Lee Chart 3

Lee’s efficiency took a dip in 2007-2008, but this was largely the result of an increased willingness to pull the trigger on open mid-range jumpers.  Lee – who was 1 for 12 from 10-15 feet for the entire 2006-07 season – forced opponents to at least consider guarding him away from the rim, attempting nearly a shot a game from that range and converting on 50% of those attempts.

The immediate impact was minimal, but it was a sign of the far more complete offensive player that Lee was primed to become.  The rest of the rock-bottom 2007-2008 Knicks’ season* was unremarkable for Lee – the team lost 59 games and was bad in essentially every possible lineup iteration.  Still, lineups with Lee continued to significantly outperform those without him.

Lee Chart 4

*Among a myriad of less notable disgraces, this was the season that featured the resolution of the ongoing Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment case, Stephon Marbury unilaterally deciding to have season-ending ankle surgery, and a $1.2 million per minute salary for Jerome James.  Really hard to imagine a young player not thriving in such a positive, growth-oriented environment.

The drastic lows of 2007-2008 had the considerable fringe benefit of removing Isiah Thomas from his palace atop mount Knickerbocker.  Few were more positively affected by this change than Lee.*  The organizational overhaul saw the installation of a general manager with his eyes set on the future (meaning that no more quick-fix, past-their-prime perimeter players would be brought in to impede the development of younger Knicks**) and a head coach with a system built around creating fast breaks, finishing on said fast breaks, and creating open jumpers early in the shot clock (three tenets which were, respectively, tailor-made for Lee’s superior defensive rebounding ability, his natural knack for finishing at the rim, and his developing perimeter game).

*My father remains one of the few who benefitted more than Lee from Isiah’s removal, insofar as he is not dead from a brain aneurysm, which was about one Zach Randolph shot-clock violation from happening.

** Or so we thought.  Yes, I’m looking at you Tracy McGrady.

Lee responded with a two-year stretch in which he developed from one of the league’s premier energy guys into the player that just commanded an $80 million contract on the open market.  The metamorphosis can be explained in two words: minutes and usage.*

*If I had to pick a third word it would be “follicles,” as Lee’s transformation included the emergence of a curly mop-topchin-hair combo that led my girlfriend and me to refer to him as “goat boy” for his last two years as a Knick.

First, minutes.  Considering that he had drafted Lee – and received more praise for the pick than any other move during his tenure – Isiah was bafflingly and stubbornly resistant to the idea of actually, you know, giving him playing time.  Lee had started only 55 games in three years under Brown and Isiah and had yet to eclipse 30 minutes per game at the time of Mike D’Antoni’s hiring.  In the two years since, Lee has started 155 games and logged nearly 6000 minutes.  This has had a huge effect on his raw numbers, turning his 11 and 9 in 2008 into a 20 and 12 in 2010 without material changes in offensive efficiency or rebound rate.

Of course, stagnant offensive efficiency isn’t the same as stagnant offensive production, and that’s where usage comes in.  The first three years of Lee’s career resembled a series of spirited 48-minute games of hot potato.  As excited as Lee seemed to get his hands on the ball each time it went up for grabs, he seemed nearly as anxious to get rid of it once it was in his control.  On the offensive end, Lee was strictly a finisher, with virtually identical assist and turnover totals through the first three years of his career and nearly three quarters of his field goal attempts taken at the rim.

Lee chart 5

On the other end, Lee’s world-class knack for owning the defensive glass was partially off-set by his unwillingness – or inability – to put the ball on the floor or make a dangerous outlet pass.  If he received the ball in a position that wasn’t conducive to an easy basket, he would look for the nearest ball-handler and make the safest, most immediate pass.

Under D’Antoni, Lee simply morphed into a different player.  The change was gradual and it’s hard to say how much of it had to do with D’Antoni’s system, his encouragement, or simply Lee’s work ethic.  It’s likely that all three factors played a role.  What is certain is that the one-time rebounder, dunker, and eschewer of any and all playmaking responsibility became the focal point of a passable NBA offense and did it without compromising his efficiency or benefitting from the presence of a top-level point guard.*

*This is where you say “But wait, Chris Duhon was GREAT with David Lee!  Their pick and rolls were awesome!  This was the one good thing Duhon had going for him!”  The results were there and you’re entitled to that opinion, but it seems a lot more plausible to me that Lee gained all the tools of a great pick-and-roll four at the exact moment that Chris Duhon happened to show up, and their supposed synergy had a lot more to do with Lee than Duhon.  I think the Lee/Stephen Curry pick and roll situation in Golden State is going to be something truly special, as Lee will finally benefit from playing with a point guard whose outside shooting ability will prevent defenders from cutting under his screens and result in more open rolls to the rim and matchups with the other teams point guard.  That is providing, of course, that Don Nelson doesn’t bench both of them for the entire season.

Three causes stand out in the 50% increase in Lee’s usage rate from 2008 to 2010.  First, the replacement of Marbury with Duhon meant more ball for everybody, as the incidents of Duhon taking the rock all the way to the rim himself were (mercifully) few.  Second, Lee’s more diverse offensive game meant shots from everywhere inside the arc, and his ability to convert those shots at a rate commensurate with the league’s best shooting big men meant that he could do it without giving away much in terms of efficiency.

Lee Chart 6

The most important change in Lee these past two years, however, is both the easiest and most difficult to quantify.  Assist numbers are powerful in that they – along with their derivative statistics, like pure point rating – are the only widely available tools used to represent a player’s passing ability and role in creating offense.  With so little available to contradict what assist totals tell us about these qualities, we tend to listen to what they say as if it offers the entire story.  And in Lee’s case, assist totals don’t exactly mislead – his dimes have more than doubled in the past two years on a per-game, per-minute, and per-possession basis.

But that doesn’t really cover it, and anybody who has been watching Lee’s development would be right to object to such an oversimplification.  Something bigger happened, and something too holistic to be explained away by any one number.  In the 2009-2010 season, David Lee became The Man.

Now, let’s be perfectly clear.  Lee was The Man on a 29-win team.  He was The Man despite being completely overmatched on defense more often than not.  He was The Man on a roster whose next best candidates for such a title were a 5’7” combo guard, a Pacers/Hawks cast-off, and a 21-year-old Italian who hears the phrase “pick and roll” and thinks about two of the many products he might use to make his hair look different for tonight’s game.

Put simply, David Lee should not be The Man.  But by some confluence of encouragement, development, and a dearth of better options, the hyperactive kid who didn’t want to hold the ball started calling for it in the post.  Started patiently waiting for cutters and hitting them with inch-perfect bounce passes.  Started rolling up top when plays broke down, waiting to receive the ball and reset the offense from the top of the key.  He actually put his head down and went after a few of his multitude of defensive rebounds, and he made enterprising passes that led to baskets after a good many more of them.  He led a team that nobody else wanted to lead – that nobody else had even wanted to be a part of just two years before, and he did it while maintaining the same exuberance and hustle that had always defined him.  He managed to simultaneously be both the big-man-on-campus and the walk-on fighting for minutes.

We will have a hard time evaluating Lee’s Knick career as the years pass.  With any luck, we will look at his six years as the team’s worst stretch ever – Lee missed their last playoff appearance by two years and logged minutes on two Knicks teams that are currently tied for the most losses in franchise history.  He was a bad defensive power forward and an even worse defensive center – though it is criminally under-mentioned that preventing second chance opportunities is an important component of team defense and that Lee is among the best of his generation in that particular regard.  We will remember his spirit and hustle fondly, and his 20 and 12 in 2009-2010 will always jump off the page, but he may ultimately prove to be doomed by association; like Don Mattingly and Rodney Hampton before him, remembered in the New York sports zeitgeist as the defining player of a disappointing era – cursed by his own memorability.

But maybe this is a case where time will not lend perspective, where it will instead rob us of gut reactions that may be more accurate.  And my gut reaction is this: David Lee is a good player, not a great player.  An excellent third option, a poor centerpiece.  With any luck he will become an important part of a great team, but he is not and never will be a great player.  But he is – was – a great Knick.  He gave us bright spots during dark times and made us say “Thank God SOMEONE on this horrible team cares as much as I do.”  It’s a legacy he shares with Nate, but his constant ability to add new dimensions to his game even in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation makes him the headliner of that legacy.

There is one other way to think about David Lee, another way to consider his value and his lasting impact on the franchise.  This is to evaluate him based on the haul that he brought back from the Warriors.  In Kelenna Azubuike, Ronny Turiaf, and – primarily – Anthony Randolph, we as Knicks fans have the fruits of David Lee’s labor.  His commitment on the glass, his development into a serious threat on the pick-and-roll, his unerring improvement in his shooting and passing game made him into a player whose sign-and-trade commanded one of the brightest – and rawest – young talents in the NBA.  What Randolph becomes as a Knick will be inexorably linked to our memories of David Lee and our appreciation for all the work he put in, whether that’s fair or not.

Randolph is super-athletic, well-built, versatile.  He is emphatic and raw.  He is exciting and immature.  In other words, he is Chris Taft, circa 2005.

Five years after the Knicks took David Lee over a raw, potential All-Star power forward, they accepted a raw, potential All-Star power forward in exchange for him.  Things didn’t work out for the one they passed on.  Hopefully they’ll work out better for the one they acquired this week.  And hopefully he, Randolph, will see happier days with the Knicks than the guy they traded for him – the one who was never supposed to be a star, and turned into one before our eyes.

Knicks Sign Amar’e

According to Adrian Wojnarowski, the New York Knicks have signed Amar’e Stoudemire to a 5 year $100M contract. For New York this is the first step in Donnie Walsh’s rebuilding plan which began in the summer of 2008. The Knicks seemed to be an obvious fit for Stoudemire, given Mike D’Antoni’s 4 and a half seasons in Phoenix. Although the Knicks haven’t ruled out a Lee-Amar’e pairing, it’s likely that Stoudemire will replace him as the team’s power forward/center. Last year STAT attempted free throws and blocked shots at more than double the rate, and provided more scoring at a higher efficiency. However he is an inferior rebounder, isn’t as good passing the ball, and comes with a greater price tag (unless Lee is lucky enough to find a taker for a max deal). Much like Lee he isn’t known for his defense.

The other big knock on Stoudemire is his knees, which is thought to be a liability. Amar’e missed almost all of 2006 due to microfracture surgery. But in 3 of the last 4 seasons he has played 79 games or more, and in the other one it wasn’t his knees that caused him to miss time. He suffered from a partially detached retina in 2009. Much like Fred Taylor, the injury label has stuck to Amar’e despite his recent good health. Injuries are rarely brought up with fellow free agent Chris Bosh, even though Bosh has missed more games than Stoudemire over the last 4 years (45 to 32).

Of the free agent power forwards on the market (excluding Dirk, who wasn’t truly available) none match Amar’e’s team’s success. In 7 seasons, Bosh’s Raptors have managed to be above .500 once. The most Boozer’s Jazz teams ever won in a season was 54 games, something that the Sun’s have matched or beaten 5 times. How much of the Suns’ success rested on Stoudemire’s production will be tested as they look to replace him with Hakim Warrick and Channing Frye.

All that is not to say that Stoudemire is undoubtedly the cream of the crop of the big men free agents. Bosh is 2 years younger, and has advantages with regards to rebounding and passing. And it’s arguable that dollar for dollar Amar’e is not an upgrade from David Lee.

But often perception trumps reality. For the Knicks this day isn’t necessarily about this signing, but the next one. And if grabbing Stoudemire, a 5 time All Star, nets New York another big free agent then the extra cost is undoubtedly worth it.

Thomas’ Thoughts On The 2010 Draft

Is it just me or is this the least anticipated draft in a long time?  For some reason there is a distinct lack of buzz this year.  Maybe it’s due to the Lakers/Celtics series ending just last week. Perhaps fans are more concerned with the pending free agent signing period.  Maybe its because the top three picks have been pretty much set in stone since the lottery. 

I wonder if you can really get excited about a draft in which pick 20 could turn out to be a better pro than pick 5?  I’m not saying Daniel Orton is an equal prospect to DeMarcus Cousins, but with the questions surrounding Cousins, who knows what he will be in five years?  And that really underscores the problem with this draft: high on potential and short on sure things. 

To me, this year’s draft is reminiscent of the 2001 and 2006 drafts.  Each of those drafts saw big disappointments in about half of the top 10 picks. 2001 lottery picks Brown (1), Curry (4), Griffin (7), Diop (8), and White (9) played well below expectations while less heralded Wallace (25), Parker (28), Arenas (31), and Okur (38) range between solid pros to all-star players. 2006’s unholy trinity of Morrison (3), Thomas (4), and Williams (5) should still be fresh in all minds.  But second round finds Gibson (42), Milsap (47), and Powe (49) are contributors.  The point here is that the Knicks could get lucky and find a solid contributor at 38 and/or 39. 

Take if available:

Willie Warren(PG): I think Warren has too much talent to pass up at 38/39.  He has good size for a point (6-4), excellent ball handler, solid passer, can get into the lane and also to the line.  I am aware that his shot selection needs work but according to draft combine reports he has good mechanics. 

Jordan Crawford (SG): A very effective scorer with well a rounded offensive game.  Unlike Warren, Crawford shows good shot selection and is very efficient. In fact, he is the second most efficient player in draft according to Draft Express. He tends to over dribble and is always on the look out for his shot. Crawford’s offense is somewhat limited by an inability to get to the line. He reminds me of another Crawford who played here–except for the efficient part. 

Lance Stephenson(SG): This guy is all over the place in mocks. NBAdraft.net has him going 15th, DX has him 41st, CNN didn’t place him in the first round, and Chad Ford won’t tell me where he thinks Stephenson will go unless I fork over 6.95 a month (Ed’s note – 37th as per version 6.1).  Anyway Stephenson has great size (6-6) for the two, he is strong and quick though not a super athlete. A one dimensional offensive player but is superb in that dimension. Stephenson is probably a higher upside than Crawford. There are maturity concerns with him and I wonder if giving him a half million dollars then turning him loose in his home town is a great idea. That aside, on talent he is a steal at 38.

Jerome Jordan(C): The 7 footer center from Tulsa will be 24 years old by the start of the 2010-11 season, but he is still quite young in terms of the basketball development–began playing late in high school.  His offense is limited but he has a solid face up jumper and good defensive skills.  Even if his ceiling is a solid back up center, that’s pretty good for the 38th pick.

Mikhail Torrence(PG): Has good size (6-5) and can get to the basket with either hand.  Good passing skills are slightly marred by below average decision making.  A flawed player (that is why he’ll probably be available) but has potential to improve.  Pushes the ball and transitions well.  Probably a good fit for D’Antoni’s offense. Torrence’s shot needs work (46 FG%) but far better offensive player than Duhon or Collins.

I would pass on:

Gani Lawal(PF): I don’t dislike the 6-9 junior but I don’t see how he fits into the coach’s plans.  A defensive specialist with a limited offensive game sounds like a guy that will languish on the end of D’Antoni’s bench.

Tiny Gallon (C): A lighter version of Jerome James at 6-10 305.  Again, does not fit into the current style of play.

Samardo Samuels(PF): A graduate of my alma mater and I wish him the best but I’m not sure he has the tools to survive as an undersized PF (6-8) in the NBA.  Sure guys like Milsap, Blair, and Glen Davis do well with a similar frame, but Samuels doesn’t show the rebounding ability of Milsap or Blair, and Samuels lacks Davis’ ability to finish against larger players. 

With a little luck, and a good eye for talent, a GM can find a valuable player in the second round.  Because the Knicks have only 4 players under contract for 2011, they don’t have to draft based on position needs–they need everything– placing positional needs above talent is always a bad idea. Given the current state of the roster and the coach’s reluctance to give minutes to rookies, I think the approach is to take the most talented, high potential player available, then hope he develops into a solid contributor over the next 2-3 seasons.