Changes in the CBA Could Help the Fans

Back in February the New York Times published an article on agent David Falk and the next NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. In it, Falk said that the NBA owners will push for serious changes in the next CBA and since they are prepared to lock the players out for two seasons, they will likely get their changes approved. Two weeks ago the player’s union president, Billy Hunter, refuted the claims that the league will win on all fronts, saying the players would negotiate not surrender. As opposed to the overhaul Falk is suggesting, Hunter said the players will only agree to minor changes to the CBA. Some of the changes that Falk is proposing won’t affect the average fan, like the percentage split between players/owners or the age limit. However there are a few changes to the salary cap that could benefit the common follower.

Understanding the ramifications of the NBA’s salary cap can be difficult for the average viewer. The NBA has a soft cap, meaning all teams over the cap are unable to sign new free agents except for the mid-level exception (about $5/$6M per year) and the low level exception (about $1/$2M per year). Using the Bird exception a team over the cap can usually resign their own player. Additionally a team that is over the cap can only swap players whose annual salaries match. Although the rules are simple, their constraints make for strange results. For instance, last year the Blazers sent Zach Randolph to the Knicks for Steve Francis and Channing Frye. Randolph played nearly every game for the Knicks for a year and a half, while Portland instantly cut Francis, and Frye eventually fell out of the rotation. Yet the Blazers received the better end of the deal!

NBA trades aren’t evaluated at the talent level, but at the financial one. There’s a problem with the league when fans can’t analyze a trade without consulting an accountant. It’s hardly something you’d expect from a business in the entertainment field. The issue stems from guaranteed contracts, or more specifically bad contracts. Nearly all NBA contracts are guaranteed, which means that if a team cuts a player, his contract stays on the cap for its entire length. A player can be overpaid when a team misjudges his potential (Eddy Curry, Larry Hughes), the player regresses due to injury (Antonio McDyess, Darius Miles), or bad management (Jared Jeffries, Jerome James). Since NBA contracts can last 6 years, when a team hands an oversized contract to a player the effects last a long time. Once the contract is signed, the only option the team has to get out from its length is to trade for another player with a contract of similar size but shorter length. But from the league’s perspective, the unwanted contract isn’t removed. It is just redistributed to another team. Hence as these bloated contracts float from team to team until their final demise, the overpaid player becomes a burden on the entire league. It’s not a surprise that players with bad contracts are the ones that are frequently mentioned in trade rumors, since teams are always looking to move them.

While it’s easy to lay blame at the feet of the team presidents that hand out such ridiculous contracts, it’s ultimately the fans that end up suffering. One GM with a few bad moves can cripple a team for half a decade. It will take the Knicks two years post Isiah Thomas (on top of the four years with Zeke at the helm) to be able to get out from the salary cap landslide he created. But this isn’t isolated to the Knicks, because bad contracts are commonplace in the NBA. One misguided front office can hurt a team years after they have been removed.

Adding to the problem is the league’s tough stance on guaranteed contracts, which are seemingly written in stone. Darius Miles was given a contract extension by Portland back in 2004 that lasted until 2010. He played his last game for the Blazers back in the 2006 season. The team petitioned the league to remove his contract from their books due to injury, and the league capitulated. However this year Miles has resurfaced to play in a handful of games for Memphis, and the league has applied his salary back to Portland’s cap. Also this year the Knicks received Cuttino Mobley in a trade, who was forced to retire due to a heart condition. New York was denied a disabled player exception from the league, even though Mobley’s “hypertrophic cardiomyopathy had progressed to the point that playing professional basketball could be life-threatening.

The two other major American sports don’t have this problem. Major League Baseball’s lack of a salary cap means teams are able to sign any player regardless of how much the team has already spent. Unfortunately this model would be a disaster for the NBA because the league isn’t as stable and lucrative as baseball’s. However the NFL’s model would be a good fit. Football has a hard cap, which means teams are not allowed to exceed their cap number. And to allow teams to accomplish this goal, most contracts in the NFL are not guaranteed. According to wikipedia:

Because of this treatment, NFL contracts almost always include the right to cut a player before the beginning of a season. If a player is cut, his salary for the remainder of his contract is neither paid nor counted against the salary cap for that team. A highly sought-after player signing a long term contract will usually receive a signing bonus, thus providing him with financial security even if he is cut before the end of his contract.

Which leads us back to the NBA’s next CBA. Falk suggests the owners will push for a hard cap and shorter contracts. And I hope they win, because the soft cap/guaranteed contract is bad for the league and its fans. Imagine if player deals were only guaranteed for the first 3 years. Almost instantly the Knicks could have jettisoned any unwanted players and reshape their team in a single offseason. On his first day Donnie Walsh could have cut Stephon Marbury, Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry, Jerome James, Jamal Crawford, and Malik Rose. With the players cut from other teams, Walsh could have had a wider berth of players to chose from when building the 2009 roster. Unfortunately the current cap rules forced Walsh to stick with these undesirable players and allowed him to trade them only for matching salaries (and in Eddy Curry’s case – not at all). It’s easy to see why this would benefit teams and their fans. Bad franchises would be able to fix their mistakes quicker, which means fans wouldn’t have to wait years for the hometown squad to turn things around. And since winning correlates to ticket sales more than anything else, it means the owners would see more money in their pockets.

Switching to a hard cap would probably add one more added benefit to the league: parity. The NFL’s popularity can be partly attributed to the ability of teams to make single season turnarounds. This means that every franchise with competent management (everyone but the Oakland Raiders) has a chance to make the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl. Last year the Dolphins, Falcons, and Cardinals had years that surpassed their fans’ wildest dreams. Over the last three years, the NFC has seen a different winner in 3 out of 4 of their divisions. In that same time span the NBA has had only 1 of their 6 divisions with three different winners (the Southwest). With the current rules, rebuilding in the NBA is a slow and tedious effort. Allowing GMs to cut their players without long term harm means that more players would become free agents each year. This increased player movement would give teams more flexibility to address their needs.

Of course the biggest hurdle in this change would be the players. Overall shorter contracts probably wouldn’t fly with players, since that curbs the earning power of the sports’ best players. And many players would balk at non-guaranteed contracts, since that wouldn’t allow them get that lucrative 5 or 6 year deal for financial security. However by asking for non-guaranteed contracts instead of shorter ones, the league can keep their top earners happy (who would cut LeBron or Kobe?) while making a pitch to the underpaid. For instance if teams weren’t bound by large contracts to undeserving players, there would be more money to sign those who merit it. In other words, some of the younger Knicks might be splitting Stephon Marbury’s $19M per year. And Portland could take the nearly $40M they’re giving to Steve Francis, Raef LaFrentz, and Darius Miles and use that on some of the players that have actually played for the team this year.

Perhaps to even things out for the players, the league would have to make the concession to raise the salary cap. Currently the cap is at $57M, but since it’s a soft cap teams can exceed that number. Using the salary data from hoopshype, it seems that the league paid out an average of $72M this year. Although some players may object to such a concession, there seems to be room for negotiation. And it does redistribute the wealth to players that deserve it more. If there’s resentment in NBA locker rooms over disproportionate salaries, this would go a long way to remedy it. When some players are getting paid more than they are worth, it hurts both the league and the players that deserve more money. And last but not least, the fans.

Haven’t the Knicks Improved?

Earlier today, the Pro Basketball News featured an article on the Knicks on their front page. It was entitled “Same old New York” and claimed that “a closer look reveals that the Knicks aren’t any better in their first year under Mike D’Antoni than they were in their first under Isiah Thomas.” Intrigued, I copied the text of the article to my blackberry to read on the train ride in. Unfortunately during the trip I was so upset by the writing that I started making notes on the back of a magazine to write this blog about it.

The author, David Friedman, talks about the Knicks hot start and recent cool down. He shows D’Antoni’s current win percentage to be similar to Isiah’s first year, which I thought was odd since it’s more relevant to use the previous season. However I let it slide because Friedman promised to use “several key statistics” to prove his point.

The Knicks have improved from 21st in scoring last season (96.9 ppg) to fourth this season (105.6 ppg) but they have dropped from 22nd in points allowed (103.5 ppg) to 28th (108.2 ppg) and their point differential of -2.6 ppg ranks in the bottom third of the league (22nd), only a few spots better than last season (-6.6 ppg, 25th). The Knicks were last in field-goal percentage differential last season (-.036) and they are last again this season (-.038). Although Lee has emerged as a nightly double-double threat, the Knicks have markedly declined overall on the boards, dropping from 18th in rebounding differential (-.1) to 27th (-3.9). A team that consistently gets out-shot and out-rebounded obviously has no realistic chance to be successful, no matter how many points it scores or how many players post career high individual numbers.

Long time KnickerBlogger readers will know that Friedman’s choice of per game stats is a poor choice of rating a team’s ability. By using per possession stats, we can see that the Knicks are currently 15th & 23rd on offense and defense respectively. This is a clear improvement from last year’s team which was 23rd on offense and 29th on defense. It’s true that the rebounding has slipped, although the Knicks are better on the defensive glass. Although it’s not true that the team is worse off in shooting percentage. Using eFG we can see that last year the team had a shooting differential of -4.3%, which has risen to -1.9% under D’Antoni.

The author moves from talking about the Knicks to an overall indictment of D’Antoni’s style of play. He accuses the coach of “neglecting the defensive end of the court” (something that was refuted by Kevin Pelton earlier this year) and launches into a defense wins championships attack on D’Antoni. His proof is that the “[Chicago Bulls] consistently rebounded and defended well… en route to the 1996 championship the Bulls won seven of the eight playoff games in which Jordan shot .440 or worse from the field.” It’s true that those Bulls teams played great defense, but let’s not forget that they were fueled by their offense. Of their 6 championship teams, Chicago was ranked #1 on offense 4 times and #1 on defense only once. In the two years they didn’t win (without Jordan) the team still was strong defensively (2nd & 6th) but couldn’t muster the offense to sustain a playoff run (10th & 14th). As for Friedman’s example, in those 8 games Jordan averaged 25.9 pts, 9 fta, and 1.4 3pm. Hardly an offensive hardship for the team.

You can excuse Friedman for using archaic stats, but what’s not excusable is how he cherry picks the facts to support his argument. He specifically picks Isiah’s first season to compare with D’Antoni, because the numbers are much closer (.402 to .406) than comparing D’Antoni’s improvement over last year (.280 to .406). You have to wonder if he spelled out ‘fourth’ because saying the team improved from 21st to 4th is easier to process visually. And take for example his paragraph on the Knicks where Friedman ignores one key piece of evidence: point differential. By using points per game, he shows that the Knicks have improved by 4 points over last year (from -6.6 to -2.6). However this significant change is swept under the rug with “[it’s] only a few spots better than last season.” You get the feeling that Freidman made up his mind long before he checked the stats out. As a statistical sports blogger, I get a lot of readers new to the field that have a general distrust of numbers. Statistically dishonest articles like Freidman’s helps to reinforce this skepticism, and are a disservice to all sports writers.

KnickerBlogger Turns 5

This week marks the 5th anniversary of KnickerBlogger. When I started this venture, I didn’t imagine it would last this long. Five years ago, blogging was still in its infancy. There were less than 2 million blogs when KnickerBlogger came into existence. Just six months after, the number of blogs had doubled. Today it’s unknown how many blogs there are. One estimate is 200 million. Many of them are powered by individuals like myself.

More important than the number of blogs is the role they perform. Once derided by the mainstream media, just about every newspaper, magazine, and network hosts their own blog. They are now an essential part of the world’s information and entertainment. Blogs fill an important niche in the world. Previously the only avenue for the common man to voice his opinion was through those who held the keys to kingdom. Often his voice was not heard by the public. Blogs have taken the words of the everyman and projected them from the world’s tallest soap box.

Five years ago my goal with KnickerBlogger was to create a platform for those who felt their opinion was not represented in the mainstream. Judging by the other readers who come here to share their thoughts and my affiliation with True Hoop Network that allows me to bring these voices to the mainstream, it seems that I have succeeded. I can only wonder what KnickerBlogger will be in five more years.


To celebrate this anniversary, I’m announcing the KnickerBlogger Quinquennial Team. To assist in this matter, I’ve looked at the overall PER and the single season PER for that period.

Stephon Marbury, PG – As painful as it is to admit, Marbury has dominated the team in many ways during the lifespan of KnickerBlogger. As his career with the team comes nearer to it’s disappointing end, it’s hard to remember that he was a productive scorer early on. He has the highest single season PER (21.9 in 2005) as well as the highest PER (18.4) during the KnickerBlogger era. His defense was mediocre and his contract was suffocating, had the two been reversed he would have been a shoe in for the Hall of Fame.
Reserves: Chris Duhon, Nate Robinson, Frank Williams.

David Lee, PF – It may shock many to see Lee here, but those that have watched him play aren’t surprised that he’s been the second most productive Knick by PER standards over the last 5 years. Looking at things from a objective standpoint it’s hard to find a more deserving PF. Randolph’s PER is the same and his weaknesses are similar to Lee’s (blocked shots, defense). However, Lee has played 4000 more minutes while costing the team $10M less. After Randolph are Mike Sweetney and Kurt Thomas. Sweetney ate himself out of the league, and Thomas wasn’t nearly as productive on the offensive end. Of all the starters on this list, Lee is the one who is most likely to also appear on KnickerBlogger’s Decennial team as well.
Reserves: Zach Randolph, Kurt Thomas, Mike Sweetney.

Nazr Mohammed, C – Surprised it’s not Curry? Nazr played exactly 81 games for the Knicks in 2 seasons, and would rank 4th in Knicks PER over the KnickerBlogger era. Mohammed was a great offensive rebounder, pulling down 4.0/36 oreb/36. To put that in perspective that’s a higher rate than Lee’s career 3.6. During the Isiah era, Nazr was eventually replaced by Eddy Curry. Comparing the two, Nazr was outscored by Curry (19.2 to 13.7), but Curry did it with almost double the turnovers (3.5 to/36 to 2.0). Additionally Mohammed had nearly double the blocks (1.3 blk/36 to Curry’s 0.7), triple the steals (1.4 stl/36 to 0.4), and more rebounds (10.6 reb/36 to 7.4). With that in mind, it’s clear that Nazr deserves the nod here.
Reserves: Eddy Curry, Dikembe Mutombo.

Van Horn/Renaldo Balkman, SF Keith played only 47 games for New York, but he put up some good numbers while he was here. Van Horn was criticized for being a tweener that had trouble defending, but he rebounded well and scored efficiently. However Van Horn only played 1500 minutes for New York. That’s about as much as Al Harrington. If that’s too little for you, then Balkman is next on the PER list. Considering how PER doesn’t account well for defense, then it makes sense that he was probably unrepresented by his stats.

One note on Keith Van Horn: shortly after Isiah Thomas took over the team, he traded Keith Van Horn. At the time Van Horn was a popular player who had just been acquired that summer, so the trade felt hasty. Since then New York has suffered through instability at the small forward position, something I’ve called “the Curse of Keith Van Horn”. The list of small forwards since the Knicks jettisoned Van Horn: Anfernee Hardaway, DerMarr Johnson, Tim Thomas, Trevor Ariza, Shandon Anderson, Jerome Williams, Matt Barnes, Jalen Rose, Ime Udoka, Qyntel Woods, Jared Jeffries, Quentin Richardson, Renaldo Balkman, and Wilson Chandler. Hopefully the curse will be broken in 2010
Reserves: Tim Thomas, Junk Yard Dog.

Jamal Crawford, SG – The default pick, since there really haven’t been many other shooting guards in recent Knick history. Robinson is the only other one that merits any mention. Crawford can drive Golden State fans crazy for the next few years.
Reserves: Nate Robinson

Lenny Wilkens, Coach – I’d like to choose D’Antoni, but he’s only been around for a half season. Wilkens got the team to the playoffs until they tuned him out a year later. In retrospect that should have signified there was something wrong behind the scenes. In his latter years, Wilkens was an adequate coach, which says a lot about the coaches the Knicks have had over the last 5 years.

Most Minutes 5: Curry, Lee, Richardson, Crawford, Marbury
Least Minutes 5: Trybanski, Randolph Morris, Matt Barnes, Jamison Brewer, Jermaine Jackson

Best Defensive 5: Mutumbo, Kurt Thomas, Balkman, Ariza, Frank Williams
Worst Defensive 5: Curry, Randolph, Jalen Rose, Crawford, Marbury

Drafted 5: Frye, Lee, Balkman, Ariza, Nate
Toughest 5: Kurt Thomas, Balkman, Collins, Robinson, Frank Williams

Best Shooting 5: David Lee, Tim Thomas, Van Horn, Nate, Marbury
Worst Shooting 5: Bruno Sundov, Malik Rose, Balkman, Shanderson, Collins

All Name 5: Cezary Trybanski, Othella Harrington, Qyntel Woods, Anfernee Hardaway, Moochie Norris
Scrappiest 5: David Lee, Jerome Williams, Renaldo Balkman, Jermaine Jackson, Frank Williams

If I had to choose a Starting 5 from this era: Nazr, Lee, Balkman, Robinson, Duhon.
Reserves: Mutombo, Van Horn, Ariza, Sweetney, Frank Williams, Gallinari, Chandler.
Coach: D’Antoni

It’s sad but I think this is the best the Knicks could do combining all the players over the last 5 years. I’ve left Marbury off for obvious reasons. New York would have a tremendous rebounding starting lineup, with enough balance of offense & defense on the bench. If you wanted, you could substitute Randolph or Kurt Thomas for Sweetney. But this being KnickerBlogger, I thought it’d be good to give the guy a second chance. The same goes for Frank Williams, who is playing well enough in the NBDL to get another shot at the NBA. Gallinari & Chandler make the list because of their youth. If this team were looking at a title, then I might choose Tim Thomas and Crawford. But I think this is a .500 team that will need some youth.

Curry To Go

With the Knicks finally poised for considerable salary cap space in 2010-11, the LeBron James countdown has officially begun. More than a year and a half before it’s possible, New York is already salivating at the chance to welcome James to the fold. But it’s no foregone conclusion that The King will join the Knicks. James says championship contention is his top priority, and we should take his word for it. If that’s the case, the Knicks have a long way to go to before they can secure James. Building a championship level supporting cast will be a difficult journey. And it’s one that must begin with the trade of Eddy Curry.

The Knicks will be expected to lure a second superstar to play sidekick to James. According to current salary commitments, the Knicks will have enough room under the cap to offer two free agents the max if they don’t re-up their current core of young players–Nate Robinson, David Lee–and pick up the team options on Wilson Chandler ($2.1M) and Danilo Gallinari ($3.3M). To keep their youngsters, and still sign two max FA’s, the Knicks must unload Eddy Curry’s contract ($11.2M) without taking on 2010-2011 dollars.

Curry has his flaws, but due mostly (or exclusively, really) to his scoring talents, he’s still an above average center in a league that starts Udonis Haslem, Zaza Pachulia, and Robert Swift at the pivot. Curry’s not playing right now, so a trade is highly unlikely. But we can dream of the day the Knicks’ league-leading pace will artificially inflate his per game numbers. Better yet, we can speculate on how exactly to get rid of him.

Mr. Curry to the Courtesy Phone
For the sake of argument, I’m assuming that teams that would want a player like Curry are in need of: (a) bench/low post scoring; (b) big man depth; (c) are playoff bound in 2008-09; (d) and won’t have cap space in 2010 anyway.

Also, for the sake of argument, I’m assuming that the Knicks are literally willing to give Curry away. If I were Donnie Walsh, I’d trade Curry for a sack of potatoes, as long as the tubers’ contract expired on July 1st, 2010. Of course, the Knicks could get lucky and find a team that’s willing to trade an unprotected first round pick for Curry, but for that to happen, they’d probably have to trade Isiah Thomas to the Clippers first.

None of the following deals are likely, but to prevent the absurd, I’ve omitted possible trades to teams like Chicago and Milwaukee that may need a player with Eddy Curry’s skill set, but don’t want Eddy Curry.

CHARLOTTE Nazr Mohammed & Adam Morrison for Eddy Curry
Off-court, Charlotte would prefer to unload Gerald Wallace’s contract. On-court, they need a center to move Emeka Okafor back to his more natural power forward position. Okafor’s defense can cover for Curry’s lapses, and vice versa. They’d be great platoon partners.

Charlotte won‘t make the playoffs this year, but they are looking to reorganize their team. Various rumors suggest they’re ready to give up on Morrison, and could use Curry’s scoring instead. The salaries match, but Nazr has 2010 money on the books, so the Knicks would only save about $4 million. The Knicks would decline Morrison’s option and renounce his rights.

With Nazr for Curry, they’d have an easier salary to unload in the off-season, and that $4 million in savings can help off-set the salary commitment for their 2009 first round draft pick.

NEW ORLEARNS Mike James & Hilton Armstrong for Eddy Curry
The Hornets are getting absolutely nothing out of James and Armstrong, with the former losing his rotation spot to Devin Brown and the latter doing his best impression of a lamp-post fifteen minutes a game. With front court depth a major issue heading into the post-season, the Hornets could jettison two players who don’t contribute for a third big man who can provide scoring punch when Tyson Chandler or David West take their breathers.

Curry has always been an embarrassingly bad rebounder, so it may come as a surprise that he could actually help the Hornets in that regard. Believe it or not, his career rebound rate is slightly superior to Armstrong’s. And Curry would do it while scoring twice as much. We focus on Curry’s flaws so often, we often forget how many teams play total stiffs just by virtue of them being the tallest guy in the gym.

The Hornets are playoff bound and will need some help to get past the Lakers. Curry doesn’t come cheap, but one wonders if they’d be willing to roll the dice with the man-child, picking him up to provide the front-court depth and second-team scoring they so desperately need.

DENVER Steven Hunter and Chucky Atkins for Eddy Curry
Like the Hornets, the Nuggets can trade two players who have spent most of the year in business suits for a productive big man. Considering they’ve played Renaldo Balkman at the pivot, they could use a center that puts the ball in the basket.

Hunter and Atkins come to the Knicks for blatant salary implications, while Denver gets another scorer. In fact, with Denver’s trade exemptions, they could acquire Curry without giving anything more than a 2nd round draft pick in return. But considering that Denver is reluctant to pay the luxury tax, the Knick could do them the favor of taking back some monetary flotsam in return.

Playing the Field
There are other deals that make less sense. Would Dallas trade Jerry Stackhouse and Antoine Wright for Curry? It would help their bench scoring, but eat up their 2010 salary cap flexibility. Maybe Atlanta could unload two unproductive point guards in Speedy Claxton and Acie Law for Curry. Washington could trade the Knicks two centers who don’t even play: Etan Thomas and Darius Songalia. But stuck in the Eastern Conference basement, and with a pair of intriguing, young bigs, would they bother? Would Sacramento shuffle about salaries, getting Shareef-Abdur Rahim and Mikki Moore off the books for Curry?

Knicks fans are dreaming of bringing James to New York in 2010. But unless the Knicks can unload Curry’s contract before then, it’s unlikely they’ll be in position to assemble the championship-level supporting cast James demands. Considering the cost of Curry, the Knicks will have to get creative to clear him in time for what could be a very special summer.

Marbury: A Tale Of Two People

Imagine this scenario: Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni inherit the Knicks and look over the roster. Walsh decides to rebuild around the core of youngster the Knicks have and use New York’s marquee status to aim for a big free agent in 2010.

At point guard Walsh has the incumbent Stephon Marbury. The key acquisition of the Isiah Thomas era, Stephon is scheduled to earn $21M in the last year of his deal. Marbury, an older overpaid guard, doesn’t fit in with the Knicks long term plans of youth & fiscal responsibility. In fact the team is looking to dump many of their long term deals. So the Knicks sign Chris Duhon as a stop gap point guard for the next two season, and in turn make Marbury a lame duck player.

With no need for him, Walsh attempts to buy out Stephon, but Marbury is uncooperative and won’t accept anything less than his full salary. So with no other options, the Knicks try to find a spot in the rotation for Marbury. However they’re already set with their starters (Duhon and Crawford), and D’Antoni finds his skills to overlap Crawford’s (a shoot happy guard who didn’t play defense and worked better with the ball than away from it). The Knicks coach preferred to have more diversity with his rotation (Duhon – distributor, Crawford – scorer, Robinson – energy scorer, Collins – defender). D’Antoni informs Marbury of the decision to keep him out of the rotation. He gives Stephon the option to play spot minutes and the guard declines.

The team is content to keep Marbury on the bench until a spot opens up due to injury or trade. However at the Knicks home opener, a group of fans cheer “We Want Steph” (which results in a string of expletives from Mike D’Antoni). Sensing a media fiasco if the fans continue to call for Marbury, D’Antoni & Walsh agree to keep him inactive to take away the option of inserting Stephon into a game.

Fast forward to Friday’s game. With the team trading two guards from their rotation, the team tells Marbury that there’s a place in the rotation with major minutes for him. They offer 30+ minutes to Stephon, but the guard refuses to play.

The above story is fiction, because I have no access to Mike D’Antoni, Donnie Walsh, or Stephon Marbury’s thoughts. However many of the facts are true. D’Antoni was quoted as saying “I did not want to embarrass [Marbury] by spot minutes. We talked about it, and it was both our decision that he go on inactive.” According to the New York Post, D’Antoni told Stephon that “[Jamal Crawford] is gone … there’s 30-35 minutes out there that’s yours if you want them.” Even if you reject the fictional aspect of the above account, using the facts that I based the story on there’s only one logical conclusion: Stephon Marbury’s ego prevented him from rejoining the team.

I’d like to think of myself as a person that will listen to both sides of an argument, but I can’t imagine any scenario that would justify Marbury’s actions. This could have been a marriage of opportunity. The team lost two guards yesterday, so there are plenty of minutes to go around even with the arrival of Mobley. Last night Marbury could have asserted himself as the starting SG for the rest of the season. But on Friday night when the team clearly needed him, Stephon chose himself. He left his teammates to suffer a 17 point loss to a Redd-less Milwaukee. If Marbury had any friends in that clubhouse, he surely lost them after the Bucks game.

Stephon Marbury is defined by his opposing extremes. Marbury’s incredible strengths as a player (scoring in the paint, running the pick & roll) made him desired by teams. But his inability to work on the things to make himself a complete player (defense, operate outside the pick & roll) left him unwanted by the teams he was on. Unlike many athletes who use sneaker contracts to make themselves rich, Marbury created an inexpensive line of sneakers to benefit those that can’t afford to overpay for footwear. But his philanthropy has been undermined by his other actions. There are many to name, but the two that come to mind are his testimony of sleeping with an intern, and his threat to blackmail his coach.

Stephon Marbury has decided he won’t play for the Knicks anymore. But by refusing to play for his team this weekend, he’s hurt his chance to play elsewhere. I can’t imagine another team out there saying “hey Stephon refused to play for his team when they needed him – that’s the kind of attitude we want in our locker room!” Marbury has said he’d like to play in Italy, but which NBA coach do you think an Italian team is going to call to inquire if they should sign Stephon? Right the same one Marbury is currently driving crazy.

Stephon Marbury is his own best friend and his own worst enemy at the same time. Last night was a prime example of it.

Heat 115 Knicks 120

[Late in the third quarter, the Knicks are up by about 20. An exchange between announcers Clyde Frazier and Gus Johnson.]
Clyde: I think the crowd is stunned, Gus, by what has happened here tonight…
Gus: I’m stunned. They’re playing so well. It’s almost too easy.
Clyde: Yes, that word surreal… The crowd is like they’re waiting for something bad to happen…
Gus: The Knicks are playing well.

Watching from home, I was stunned from before the start of the game with the opening act of Q-Tip. For years “Take Me Home” by Doug E Fresh was one of the worst parts of any Knick game. As I wrote nearly 2 years ago, New York is the birthplace and capital of rap. We shouldn’t have to settle for a third rate rapper covering a song about rural life. Q-Tip is a New York native who is well respected for his work in A Tribe Called Quest, and is still active with his solo career. Nonetheless Q-Tip’s song was fit for a New York basketball team.

I was still stunned when D’Antoni furiously called a time out with 4:46 left in the game and the Knicks had a 106-92 lead. I just couldn’t imagine any of the last few New York coaches being mad with a 14 point buffer on opening night. Isiah Thomas probably wouldn’t have gotten out of his seat. Herb Williams might have looked around for a fan to tell him what to do. Lenny Wilkens might have been dreaming of 1979.

But the Knicks did play well. Granted they only won by 5 points, but they had a 16 point lead going into the fourth quarter. New York had positive contributions from Crawford (29 points on 19 shots), Lee (16 pts, 11 reb, 5 ast), Randolph (20 pts, 9 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl), and Chandler (17 pts, 9 reb in 23 min). Even though Gallinari didn’t play well, he made an appearance. How stunning is it, that an underage draft pick that missed most of summer league and preseason made his way onto the court in the first half?

It’s great that New York won, but I’m just glad of the difference that mark a change in philosophy. For the first time in years, I feel like the Knicks are a real team. I still don’t expect them to win many games this year. But I feel pride in this team, for the first time in a long time.