Put On For Your City

My whole perspective on the lockout, and the NBA in general, changed today when my friend asked, “Will anyone really care about Kobe’s Denver Citibank Armadillos vs. Lebron’s Akron MetLife Wildcats?” He was referencing Amar’e Stoudemire’s recent suggestion of the players creating their own league with its own season. “No,” I responded, “No one would.” Up until this summer, I always thought the players were the only focus in the NBA. Now, I am realizing the heart of the league lies much deeper.

It dawned on me that real fans, like myself, yearn for the league and the game, not necessarily the stars. Throughout the summer we have all watched or heard of Durant, LeBron, ‘Melo, Wade, and others hoop it up across the country. For an hour or two, these games provide entertainment and discussion, but they are simply a façade of the real deal.  I get the feeling stars think all we want is to see them put on a show – throw down uncontested dunks on one end while playing matador D’ on the other.

Truth is, I don’t have nearly the same attachment to Melo as he shoots in a Miami exhibition as I do when he is wearing a New York jersey shooting against the 76’ers. I don’t check Amare’s stats when he is playing for “Wade’s” team, but after any Knicks game, I scour the box score for hours.  During the lockout, I have become detached from the players and more attached to my team – the Knicks.

Real fans don’t invest their love in the players so much as the city and the franchise. This is why Amare’s proposal of a player-run league does not excite me. Sure, it would be fun, in a way. But, if the stars think we are content with just seeing them in any uniform, they are sorely mistaken.  There are those out there who would LOVE Stoudemire’s idea.  Unfortunately, many of them are similar to the guy sitting next to me at the home opener last year. He wore an Anthony jersey, was decked in Knicks gear from head to toe, but shouted several times “who is number 23?!?”

Real fans love getting behind their team and representing them as best they can. The perfect example is the hatred towards LeBron by Knicks fans (again, including me) just moments after the “decision.” In the days, months, and years leading up to this, we were begging him to come to New York. We didn’t actually care about LeBron – we cared about the Knicks regaining power in the East.

The All-Stars have it wrong.  We are here to watch our team as a whole, from the end of the bench to the starters.  I will have more respect for Carmelo, or any player on the Knicks,  if he fights to bring basketball back to NY, rather than put up 45 against LeBron in an exhibition. We don’t want you to set up charity games. We want you to show the same desperation and urgency that Knicks fans have in starting the regular season. NBA players should stop worrying about playing overseas and, instead, fight for their team back in this country. At the end of the day, we all just want to see our team play and represent our city, no matter what shape or form.  The NBA is not only about the players, and they will be the last ones to realize.

GOTME (Part III): Shooting Guard

The Greatest Shooting Guard of the Modern Era: Michael Jordan

Player Best PER Avg 5 Best PER Career PER #1 PER # of top 10 PER
Jordan 31.7 31.1 27.9 7 11
Kobe 28 25.9 23.6 0 10
Wade 30.4 27.5 25.5 0 4
Drexler 24.1 23.2 21.1 0 4

Recently I debunked the notion that Kobe is in the same league as Jordan, and truly no one in the modern era comes close to Jordan. If you had to name a captain to the GOTME team, Michael would be the guy. Future generations of great players are going to have a tough time measuring up to Jordan for one reason: luck.

Let’s assume that we go back in time to an identical alternate universe, grab a young Michael Jordan, and bring him to today’s NBA. Let’s also assume in the best interests of not confusing him with his twin we give him a Star Trek goatee, different hairdo (how about a faux-hawk?), and call him Tommy Sanders. It’s reasonable to believe that Sanders would dominate the league and put up Jordan-esque numbers. But what’s not given is if Tommy would end up with the same number of rings. Jordan didn’t win a championship until he teamed up with Pippen and Phil Jackson. What if Sanders was drafted by an incompetent organization like the Clippers or Timberwolves? It’s possible that this reincarnation would be at the mercy of a bad coach, a bad GM, and surrounded by bad players.

Even if Sanders does hitch on with a great team, what’s the likelihood that he hits nearly every big shot that he needs to? What’s the chance that the 21st century version of Karl Malone lets him strip the ball? That the ref doesn’t call an offensive foul on a final shot against Byron Russell Jr.? That a 6-10 player fails to make a 2 foot basket on 4 consecutive attempts? Not only is it improbable that Sanders misses a few of those big shots, but there’s also the probability that something else could foul up his perfect legacy. Perhaps Robert Horry Jr. decides to slam Sanders into a scorer’s table – causing him to lose a few teammates in a crucial playoff series. Perhaps one of Sanders’ teammates fails to hit a wide open game winning shot (like the ones Paxson and Kerr made).

And hence why it would be nearly impossible for another player to eclipse Jordan’s legend. Not only was Jordan dominant, but he was pretty lucky as well. Save for the steal by Nick Anderson, which was easily excused by his baseball vacation, he was as close to perfection as one can get to in sports. As the narrative goes, Jordan won a championship in his prime whenever he wished. For Tommy Sanders to be better than Jordan, he’d have to win more than 6 championships in his prime, without losing once in the Finals. It’s like Ed Vander Meer’s back to back no-hitters. It’s extremely unlike that someone will tie that record, but virtually impossible for someone to break it. Similarly someone may equal Jordan’s legacy of dominance, but it will be extremely difficult for someone to surpass. One missed shot, by him or a teammate, will put enough doubt into debaters minds that could give Jordan the edge.

Reserves: Kobe Bryant, Clyde Drexler, Dwayne Wade

From the numbers Wade has a good case to be number 2 on this list, except for one thing: his health. “The Flash” averages about 16 missed games per year. And although I’m big on peak over longevity, that’s too much lost productivity to overcome his per minute advantage. Drexler suffers from slightly lower usage, a poor three point percentage, and less free throw attempts. Some might note that I’ve excluded one former MVP winner. But Iverson had only 3 seasons out of 14 where he finished in the top 10 PER. Additionally it’s hard to ignore Iverson’s horribly inefficient shooting (TS% 51.8%).

Can We Do Two? (Or, “Where’s My Cap At?”)

Drumroll please…

This is what the Knicks cap situation looks like for the long-awaited “Summer of LeBron,” going into the 2010-2011 season. Only four players are under contract.

Player 2010-2011
Curry 11,276,863
Gallinari 3,304,560
Chandler 2,130,481
Douglas 1,071,000
roster charge* 2,841,624

Committed salary: $20.62 million.

If the Knicks want truly max cap space, they could let every other player – from Bill Walker on up to David Lee – walk away for nothing. However, until those players are “renounced,” they continue to take up cap space. For most veterans, the “cap hold” is 150% of their most recent salary. For “non-Bird” free agents, i.e. those who just got traded, like Eddie House, it’s 120%.

McGrady 34,859,342
Harrington 15,040,313
Lee 10,500,000
Duhon 9,047,700
House 3,434,400
Bender 895,907

The Knicks also have two players with team options, JR Giddens and Bill Walker. Their contracts include a set price for picking up the option.

Giddens 1,100,640
Walker 854,389

Finally, Sergio Rodriguez is a restricted free agent.

Rodriguez 2,805,888

Like Nate Robinson and David Lee last summer, the Knicks can keep Rodriguez by making a qualifying offer — in Rodriguez’ case, $2.8 million. Or, as they did with Lee and Robinson, they could cut a deal for more. Ted Nelson suggests that Rodriguez has more bargaining power than most restricted free agents, since he could probably play in Spain, tax-free, for $5 million or more.  Of course, he may want to stay on the New York stage, even if it means accepting less money.

Where will the cap fall? It depends on who you ask, but bet on a number between $51 million and $56 million. A maximum starting salary is 30% of the cap, or in the $15-17 million range. In other words, the Knicks COULD probably sign two max free agents – if they’re willing to renounce David Lee, and fill out the roster with minimum salary guys. Or, they could sign LeBron James, give $9 million to Lee and have $6-8 million left for additional free agents, or to absorb salary in trades.

Another number to keep in mind: players are allowed annual raises of 10.5%.  The Knicks could start Lee at $8 million, and by including maximum raises, make it a 6-year deal for a total of $60.6 million.  Teams signing other teams’ free agents are only allowed to make a 5-year offer.

Let the arguments begin!

*For the roster charge, I used (6 x the rookie minimum of $473,604). By league rules, the Knicks must carry at least 12 players on the roster, so technically, with only 4 under contract, the roster charge going into the offseason is 8 x $473,604  (or $3.8 million).  However, for every free agent we sign, the roster charge goes down by one player. What we’re really trying to figure out is: can the Knicks sign LeBron James and Dwyane Wade? To do that math, we only need figure on 6 remaining roster slots.

— additional design and inspiration by Thomas B.