From the Mailbox: T-Mac for 2011?

Been a while since I’ve gotten a request from the old inbox, so I thought I’d take the time to answer.

Do the Knicks have any interest what-so-ever in resigning Tracy McGrady? I know that most people think T-Mac will never be half the player that he once was, and there is more than enough evidence to support that. However, he won’t be worse than he was last year, and last year, even injured, he still always seemed to have the highest IQ on the floor, especially in a Knicks uniform. He can pass as good as anyone in the NBA, and hes clutch. Additionally, Wilson Chandler is a small forward, not a 2 guard. I like him, but he does not have the handling, or the jump shot the Knicks need at SHOOTING guard. Bill Walker is good, but i dont think he is ready to start just yet. So again, do you know if the knicks have any interest in T-Mac? Looking forward to your response!

Thanks,
James

First, the reliable Alan “my sources say LeBron is going to Miami” Hahn tweeted that neither McGrady nor the Knicks were interested in a reunion. So it doesn’t seem like a likely possibility.

Second, I’ll start this off by saying I’m not a fan of McGrady’s, and I’ll try to convince any New Yorker not to be either. Let’s look at what I said about him after the season ended:

I had hoped that McGrady would benefit from a reduction in shot attempts upon arriving in New York. But even when he cut his FGA/36 to 12.6, T-Mac put up the lowest TS% of his career (46.6%). You know your career is over when you’re a former All Star trying to beat out Chris Duhon for a starting job, and you fail. Probably some team will sign him to a minor contract this year, I just hope it isn’t New York.

How bad is a 46.6% TS%? Well Jared Jeffries managed a TS% of 52.4% for the Knicks last year. Chris Duhon was at 50.1%. Larry Hughes was at 47.3%. Darko Milicic 47.1%. This number is a personal low for McGrady, but poor shooting has been a staple of his late career. In 4 of the last 5 years McGrady hasn’t gotten his TS% above 50%. And mind you that 54% is the league average for true shooting percentage.

I agree that McGrady has good basketball IQ with regards to passing. However the prerequisite for shooting guard is, as you aptly put it, “SHOOTING.” And hands down T-Mac was one of the worst in the league. If there is any role for McGrady to play in an NBA offense it’s point guard, but even then he’d need to be the basketball equivalent of Stephen Hawkin to make up for his poor shot.

Now, it’s been no great secret that shooting guard has been a Knick weakness for the past few seasons. As you point out, Wilson Chandler is a forward masquerading as a guard and this summer didn’t do anything to improve Bill Walker’s stock. However, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Chandler finally addresses one of his offensive weaknesses (although I’m still waiting). Nor is it inconceivable that Bill Walker turns into an NBA starter at shooting guard. But if neither happens New York has more depth beyond them. Azubuike was a starter for most of 2009, and seems to be a great fit for D’Antoni. Douglas will likely see time alongside Felton, and either Fields or Rautins could surprise fans this year as well. Between Chandler, Walker, Azubuike, Fields, Rautins, and Douglas the Knicks finally have some better options to get some real production from the 2 spot this year.

2010 Report Card: Mike D’Antoni

In 2010, the Knicks were expected to better their 33 wins from the season prior. The returning players should have reaped the benefits of familiarity with D’Antoni’s offense. The team had multiple young players which should have improved. And the addition of two first round picks should have assisted with filling out the roster. However D’Antoni’s team floundered in his second season, finishing 4 games worse than the year prior.

The 2010 New York offense was nearly identical to 2009. Both teams finished 17th in offensive efficiency (107.6 in 2010, 108.1 in 2009) with good shooting (10th in 2010, 12th in 2009) and turnovers (11th in 2010 and 2009), while eschewing rebounding (27th in 2010 and 2009) and free throw shooting (28th in 2010 and 2009). However the defense was considerably worse dropping from 110.8 points per 100 possessions in 2009 (23rd) to 111.6 pts/100poss (tied 27th). The team was considerably worse with regards to rebounding going from tied for 20th place to 27th.

Granted the D’Antoni era Knicks with their broken roster wasn’t supposed to be about winning games, at least thus far. But even casting that aside, it’s hard to like everything that has happened to the team under his leadership. Take for instance his handling of certain players. You can write off his dealing with Marbury, considering how the latter has acted publicly (and if the public only sees a small portion of Marbury’s life, then I can only imaging what he was truly like). But it’s hard to dismiss Nate Robinson as easily. Nate was an integral part of the team last year amassing 2209 minutes, but by December he was persona non grata. Benching one of the team’s best players for a month due to immaturity seems harsh.

Just as important was his inability to handle his team publicly. Surprisingly Nate dealt with the benching in a mature fashion when it came to the press, however Larry Hughes and Darko Milicic were much less accommodating. D’Antoni failed to quell the media storm that came with these issues, and instead seemed to fuel them by teetering between aloofness and annoyance whenever asked about playing time.

Of course there may be elements that we as outsiders are not privy to, especially with regards to what occurs behind the scenes. But it’s impossible to defend D’Antoni’s choices in the rotation during the 2010 season. Tossing out the corpse of Chris Duhon’s night after night was inexplicable, and perhaps the worst coaching decision he has made. It was like the NBA’s version of the Emperor’s New Clothes; everyone could see that Duhon was awful except for the one person who could have removed him from the rotation. It’s not like D’Antoni didn’t have other options. Nate Robinson, Sergio Rodriguez, and Toney Douglas were obvious choices to replace Duhon. And the rookie proved to be a good player once he finally got playing time.

The point guard spot wasn’t the only position where D’Antoni blundered. For a team that was one of the worst in the league on defense and rebounding, D’Antoni refused to give serious consideration to any of the team’s natural centers. Granted the issues with Eddy Curry are well documented, but the team should have experimented with either Jordan Hill or Darko Milicic to see if either could have addressed these issues. Both players received more minutes from their new teams upon being traded, so it’s hard to believe there was anything other than D’Antoni’s own blinders which prevented them from contributing to the team. The treatment of Douglas, Hill, and Robinson might not be on par with ignoring Barnes, trading away Ariza, and burying David Lee on the depth chart. However there’s no doubt that the team squandered the talent on an already resource poor team.

Not everything was bad for D’Antoni in 2010. He did help along some of the younger players. Danilo Gallinari didn’t turn into a superstar, but played well for a 21 year old. Meanwhile 23 year old Toney Douglas and 22 year old Bill Walker were surprisingly productive, albeit in limited minutes. And the ability to recognize David Lee’s passing ability and run the offense through him was pretty inventive. Depending on who the Knicks sign this summer, many of the issues with D’Antoni are likely to vanish. However human weaknesses often appear under the worst stress and strain, and perhaps 2010 was a magnifying glass on what D’Antoni doesn’t do well.

Report Card (5 point scale):

In order to grade D’Antoni I’m going to use a different set of metrics. In a recent interview, Henry Abbott of TrueHoop was asked about Nate McMillan and said this about NBA coaches:

The way to judge a coach is not to obsess over this or that little thing, but to look around the franchise and ask: Are the basketball players well-led? Do they give great effort at all times? Are the offense and defense generally efficient? Are the players on the roster well-deployed? Do the players believe in the coach as their leader? Is the staff on the same page?

So I’ll attempt to answer these questions, although I have to do so as an outsider, speculating where necessary.

Are the basketball players well-led? 3
Do they give great effort at all times? 3
Sometimes it’s hard to separate ability with effort, and perhaps with D’Antoni’s short rotation watching the same players with the same flaws become ingrained in my memory. I didn’t get the feeling that the team was ill-prepared or lethargic, but I didn’t feel that they were superbly organized or energetic.

Are the offense and defense generally efficient? 1
The offense has been what you’d expect, but the defense was just dreadful last season. If pushed I could go with a 2, but when you consider that D’Antoni wasted so many minutes on Jared Jeffries, you’d expect better than the 3rd worst defense in the NBA. Additionally he could have moved David Lee back to PF in order to better protect the paint.

Are the players on the roster well-deployed? -5
By far D’Antoni’s worst ability, as mentioned above.

Do the players believe in the coach as their leader? NA
Impossible to answer this question from my perspective.

Is the staff on the same page? 5
I’ve never heard any dissent from the other coaches or even the front office. Considering that one of the assistant coaches is kin, and that Donnie Walsh has gone out on a limb to protect his coach, this is D’Antoni’s strength so far.

Final Grade: F

2010 Report Card: Toney Douglas

Douglas’ initial season with the Knicks was filled with ups and downs. His NBA career started on a sour note, as some New Yorkers were upset that in a point guard rich draft, the team failed to fill its void with either Brandon Jennings or Ty Lawson. Following the draft, Douglas had a poor showing in summer league, shooting a feeble 28.8% eFG%. However at the start of the season, he played well enough to make the rotation. In mid-November on the heels of a 21 point outburst off the bench, D’Antoni made him the starting shooting guard. The Knick rookie played well enough, dropping 23 in a loss against the Hawks.

And that’s when things took another downturn for Douglas. The next night he would come off the bench, and following that his minutes would begin to fluctuate. He started on November 18th, but only managed 12 minutes of court time. By then Larry Hughes was on a shooting streak, and D’Antoni would stick with his hot hand playing the veteran over the rookie. Even when Hughes crawled into the coach’s doghouse in mid-December, Douglas would find court time sporadically. It wouldn’t be until early March that D’Antoni would awaken Douglas from his winter hibernation and allow him to see regular action again. From March 12th until the end of the regular season, he played 25+ minutes in every game save for two.

Douglas-Minutes-Per-Month

Perhaps what surprised me most about Douglas’ 2010 season was his efficient scoring (57.1% TS%); prior to the start of the season I envisioned him having a TS% under 50%. However I remain curious if he can keep this efficiency so high. Douglas didn’t earn a lot of trips to the free throw line and shooting percentage is volatile season to season. To his credit an overwhelming majority of his shots (73.4% according to HoopData) come either from downtown or point blank. Perhaps his scoring competency relies more on his ability to take intelligent shots.

Although his shooting might be suspect going into next year, his vigorous defense isn’t likely to wane. Douglas remains vivacious on defense, continually moving his feet. He’s a threat in the passing lanes and plays good ball denial as well. Another area where his physical ability and his intelligence make him an asset to the team.

Report Card (5 point scale):
Offense: 3
Defense: 4
Teamwork: 4
Rootability: 5
Performance/Expectations: 5

Final Grade: A-

Similarity Scores:

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS eFG PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Toney Douglas 2010 NYK 14.9 57.1 54.5 15.9 1.3 3.6 3.7 1.4 0.1 1.8
.037 Leandro Barbosa 2006 PHO 15.1 58.9 55.8 16.8 0.7 3.4 3.6 1.1 0.1 2.0
.039 Kevin Gamble 1989 BOS 15.8 58.4 55.9 18.0 1.1 4.0 3.3 1.3 0.3 1.8
.047 George Hill 2010 SAS 14.7 57.2 52.9 15.2 0.7 3.2 3.6 1.1 0.4 1.6
.055 Mike Glenn 1979 NYK 15.5 56.7 54.1 17.9 0.9 2.5 4.2 1.1 0.2 2.0
.064 Reggie Miller 1989 IND 15.7 60.2 53.8 16.8 1.0 4.1 3.2 1.3 0.4 2.0
.066 Rudy Fernandez 2009 POR 15.5 58.8 55.2 14.7 0.8 3.7 2.9 1.2 0.2 1.6
.078 Kyle Macy 1981 PHO 14.5 56.7 52.3 16.2 1.1 3.2 3.9 1.9 0.1 2.3
.084 Jim Paxson 1981 POR 16.9 56.4 53.7 18.0 1.0 2.8 4.0 1.9 0.1 1.7
.088 Chris Mullin 1987 GSW 15.8 58.0 52.4 18.8 0.6 2.7 4.0 1.5 0.5 2.3
.091 Hubert Davis 1994 NYK 14.0 55.8 52.4 16.6 0.6 1.8 4.5 1.1 0.1 2.1

It’s good that great players like Reggie Miller and Chris Mullin appear on this list, but Douglas sees himself as a point guard not scoring guard. It’s no secret that D’Antoni has a disdain of playing combo guards at the point. Douglas would be wise to work on his passing skills this offseason.

The silverlining on his comparables is the guy at the top of the list: Leandro Barbosa. The Brazillian Blur thrived under D’Antoni in Phoenix, so perhaps Douglas is playing for the right coach. Barbosa did increase the number of free throw attempts and points per minute as he progressed, so that is another barometer on Douglas’ development.

Between Barbosa and Gamble, it appears that Douglas ceiling in the NBA is as a reserve guard. Perhaps his defense, coupled with a strong playmaker at another position (ahem LeBron) could make him starting material.

Grading the Knicks 2010 Deadline Deals

DARKO MILICIC TO MINNESOTA
FOR
BRIAN CARDINAL

Mike Kurylo: Hard to hate or love this deal. The Knicks were intent to not play Darko, and Milicic has an Erik Estrada sized chip on his shoulder. The NBA grapevine has it that the Knicks are going to release Cardinal, but I don’t see why. Kelly Dwyer called Cardinal the anti-Milicic, a guy who worked hard to squeeze out minutes like you would an old tube of toothpaste. Unlike Darko, Cardinal is on the tail end of his career, but if the Knicks decide to keep him I can see D’Antoni having a use for him in a Jeffries-esque-do-the-little-things kinda way.

Cardinal’s career stats aren’t awful 12.4 pts/36, TS% 55.2, 2.6 ast/36, 2.0 to/36, 6.2 reb/36, 1.7 stl/36. The question is how much of that is from his earlier days, and how much does he have left in the tank? I’ll put a clause out on my grade. If Cardinal plays 200+ minutes for the Knicks, I’ll call it a B+. If not then I’ll go with a C, since you have to hand it to Donnie for trying to get something out of nothing.

Thomas B.: I see this as trading goldenrod for saffron. But this is worth a C+ because we knew Milicic was never going to play. At least now we can wonder if Cardinal will play. Cardinal has been a pro for 9 years and I never heard of him. I had a picture in my mind of who I thought he was and I went to NBA.com to see if it matched; it did not. I was thinking of Bison Dele–he retired a decade ago.

Kevin McElroy: Knicks look set to cut Cardinal, so this seems like a clever piece of bookkeeping that will save them a shade over a million dollars. Small potatoes in the grand scheme of things? Sure. But who am I to hate on a team that wants to save a couple million bucks a few months before its intends to shell out roughly three gazillion dollars to let me root for LeBron and a high-priced sidekick. Not like they gave up anything we’ll miss, and Darko’s malingering could only have caused tension, so I’ll throw this one a C+. Somewhere, Q-Rich is wondering why he had to pay all those real estate agents in the first place.

Robert Silverman: Although I would have gotten a weird kink out of seeing Brian “The Janitor” Cardinal get some spin, it looks like we”ll never know. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for career backup PF/C’s. It’s why the only Nix jersey that I actually own is a Ken “The Animal” Bannister model from ’85-’86. B-

Caleb: Most NBA fans probably didn’t know that Darko was still in the league. Here’s my favorite Brian Cardinal story – can you believe there is a Brian Cardinal story? It’s how he got that contract in the first place. Allegedly, Michael Hensley was giving Jerry West a lot of grief, “why haven’t you signed anyone? etc.” West was about fed up and so he picked up the phone, called Cardinal’s agent and asked if he wanted $30 million. Ten seconds later, he turned to Hensley and said, “I signed a free agent. Are you satisfied?” I don’t know if it’s true but it’s a good story. This trade saved the Knicks about a million bucks, counting luxury tax. Supposedly Kahn is his protege. Guess there was a favor owed. A-

Brian Cronin: As Caleb notes, the trade saved the Knicks roughly $1 million off of their luxury tax bill, and since they were not playing Darko at all, this is a pretty easy win (now as to why they never really played Darko at all, well, that’s another story). A-

Dave Crockett: A little tax relief, and a potential end-of-bench player. Moving right along. A (but only worth a few points)

NATE ROBINSON AND MARCUS LANDRY TO BOSTON
FOR
EDDIE HOUSE, J.R. GIDDENS AND BILL WALKER

Mike Kurylo: Nate’s days were numbered under D’Antoni. Getting the starting job over Duhon seemed to indicate a final opportunity for Nate to win over D’Antoni. Being demoted just 2 days afterwards told you all you needed to know about Nate’s future in New York. In Walsh’s defense Nate did reject the deal to Memphis, but perhaps he could have played chicken with Nate and tried to force his hand (no one wants to sit in the final year of their contract). I’m sad the Knicks didn’t get a draft pick in return in this deal, especially considering that they gave one (and a half) away to Houston. It seems that there’s always a few teams willing to give one away, perhaps the Lakers might have been interested.

In the short term Eddie House will bring the big three ball, and fit in nicer with D’Antoni than Nate ever did. Giddens & Walkers NBDL numbers aren’t bad, but considering how little last year’s NBDLers played, I don’t envision the Knicks giving them lots of playing time. Oh and Giddens just had knee surgery, with no timetable to return. The Celtics got by far the best player of the bunch, and the Knicks didn’t receive anything here except perhaps a rental on House and a short look at Walker. D+

Thomas B.: I guess this means I lost when I took the over for Nate Robinson games as a Knick (82.5) prior to the season. I don’t like the move because Robinson is worth more than what we brought back. I’d have much rather had Robinson added to Jeffries deal with the Knicks keeping the “sweetener” picks. Or bring back a late first round pick when sending Robinson to Boston. A protected pick in 2012 would have made the 2012 pick we moved out with Jeffries easier to take. Of course, Walsh was somewhat limited since Nate could void the trades. This deal makes me think letting Robinson walk at the end of the season is okay. I just can’t see House, Walker, or Giddens dropping 41 points combined in any game this season much less any one of them doing it alone. D-

Kevin McElroy: This trade was presented in a ton of different forms and with a number of different justifications over the last month, most of which made sense for one reason or another. These reasons included:

1) Because the Knicks were going to get a draft pick back.
2) Because the Knicks were going to dump a player to reduce next year’s cap number.
3) Because the Celtics needed an incentive to be pulled into the larger Knicks/Rockets/Kings trade.
4) Because the Knicks wanted to get Toney Douglas more playing time without Nate looking over his shoulder.

In its final version, the trade accomplishes zero of these things. No draft pick came back and no long-term salary left with Nate, the Celtics trade was conducted separately from the mega-deal, and Alan Hahn has tweeted that Douglas will remain out of D’Antoni’s rotation (behind Duhon and the newly acquired Sergio Rodriguez).

Ultimately, the Knicks sent away a fan favorite for players that won’t be around after a couple months, received no assets, cleared up no cap room, and have run the risk of rejuvenating a division rival for a playoff run by sending them a much-needed bench scorer (seriously, I know the Knicks are out of it, but we can all agree that we’d rather not see the Celtics succeed in the postseason, right?). On a personal level, I’m happy that Nate gets to play for a good team, but the Knicks did absolutely nothing to advance their interests here. More worryingly, it feels like the Knicks brass was simply out-maneuvered, failing to take a hard line as the best parts of their return package came off the table. It feels silly to give such a poor grade to this one, seeing as Nate would have walked in a few months anyway, but the direction that this negotiation took shouldn’t get anything more than a D+.

Caleb: This was depressing. Like Balkman, an example of Walshtoni dumping someone they just didn’t like. Although, to be fair, it saved the Knicks more than $1 million, counting luxury tax. On the plus side, I’m happy for Nate, who will have a lot of fun the next three months. Wild-card: Bill Walker. Before he blew out both knees, there was talk of his being a top-5 pick. If they ever invent a new surgery/rejuvenation machine he could be a stud. D

Robert Silverman: First of all, can we please stop holding a torch for the supposed “Kenny Thomas for Jeffries & Nate deal that Donnie Moth$%&*^!ing Walsh turned down!!!!” deal. It was a rumor. No one, save Walsh and Petrie, knows if it’s true and they’re not telling. It’s like still being pissed at Isiah for (supposedly) retiring in ’93 rather than accept a trade to the Knicks (as Pete Vescey/Pete Vescey’s psychic Ms. Cleo claims). No, two C-Minus prospects like Giddens and Walker isn’t much of a haul for a productive (if maddening/maddeningly inconsistent) player. But what’s the alternative? Even if you could get another team to go for a sign and trade this off-season (which, considering Olympiakos was the strongest bidder in the summer of ’09 isn’t likely), you’re still going to have to take back a contract to make the deal work, thus cutting into our sweet, creamery cap space. The one thing that royally cheeses me off is that come playoff time, I will pull for Nate when he’s in the game (b/c he’s Nate. Warts and all, I so dig the dude). As a result, I’ll have to…sort of…root…for…the Celtics. Ick. I just threw up a little in my mouth. C-

Brian Cronin: I agree that it is a bit frustrating that Nate returned little value partially because his own coach was pretty clear about not liking him (way to market your assets!), but once you allow that Nate’s value was depressed to the point where you weren’t going to get a draft pick for him (by the way, the deal apparently does include a conditional second round pick, but I believe it’s one of those conditional picks where the chances of the conditions ever actually existing are next to nil, so it’s effectively not really a pick at all), then saving some money on the luxury tax is as good as anything else, I suppose. C+

Dave Crockett: This was all about coach D. I just cannot understand why Nate couldn’t play in 7SOL (such that it is in NY) while he got big mileage out of Barbosa in PHO. Happy for Nate, but I recall from my Beantown days that Tommy Heinsen HATES Nate. That’s never a good thing in that town. D

JORDAN HILL, JARED JEFFRIES, OPTION TO SWAP 1ST ROUND PICK IN 2011 (TOP 1 PROTECTION), 2012 1ST ROUND PICK (TOP 5 PROTECTION), AND LARRY HUGHES TO HOUSTON/SACRAMENTO
FOR
TRACY MCGRADY, SERGIO RODRIGUEZ

Mike Kurylo: I’m not sure what else to say that I didn’t say yesterday. So I’ll look at what this deal means for this year. I admit I’m a bit excited to see some new blood on what’s become a lifeless team. However there’s a nagging voice in the back of my head that is telling me not to get too optimistic. I would love for someone to take Duhon’s place in the starting lineup. But part of me is hoping it’s not McGrady, because if he plays well then the front office might overpay to keep him. I don’t want my future hopes resting on Donnie Walsh giving him a reasonable contract, T-Mac staying healthy for a full season, and shooting more efficiently than he’s been in the past (he’s had exactly one season with a TS% over 54%). What are the odds all that comes to fruition?

Perhaps Sergio Rodriguez would be the guy to send Duhon packing. But I just don’t trust D’Antoni to play him, and can you blame me? Remember the NBDL-shuffle of last year? The 2 whole games he gave Nate Robinson this year (one against Cleveland) before calling the experiment a failure? Von Wafer? Morris Almond? I just don’t envision Mike D’Antoni handing over the reigns to a youngster, especially with how oddly married he is to Duhon. My guess is that Sergio won’t get a chance until it’s too late, and he’ll be gone without given a fair shake.

On the long term it’s a lot to pay for moving the contracts of Hill and Jeffries, and I’d be much happier if things go wrong in the next 3 seasons we still have our draft pick to comfort us on those cold February days when the team is playing poorly. I’d like to give this a D or an F, but the remote chance this brings in 2 studs and the draft picks don’t matter gives it some hope. C-

Thomas B.: This is NOT the 13 points in 35 second Tracy McGrady coming to NY. I hope folks understand that. This guy is much closer to the Anfernee Hardaway we got in 2004: an injury riddled once dominant scoring wing. I’m excited about what Sergio might be able to do…to Duhon. If he can’t steal Duhon’s minutes at point he does not need to be in the NBA. Sergio should be allowed a fair shot to supplant Duhon. We know Duhon won’t be back, so at least see if Sergio is worth bringing back on the cheap. Other than the draft picks, I won’t miss what we sent away.

This deal was not about players, it was about cap room and Walsh delivered. Now we have to see what that cap room turns in to. This deal can’t be graded fairly until July 2010. And the true impact will not be known until May of 2011 (playoffs anyone?). For now, I’ll grade this pass/fail. So for giving the team a chance to dream about James/Bosh or James/Wade or Wade/Bosh, Walsh earns a Pass. But if he goes all Dumars this off season…..

Robert Silverman: Outside of the roundball ramifications, from a semi-ontological point of view, doesn’t it seem like the Knicks are somehow osmotically taking on the karma/organizational principles (or lack thereof) of their Madison Sq. Garden co-occupants? For years, nay, decades…heck, since ice was invented, the Blueshirts have given a washed-up/injured “star” a year or two to spin/reclaim their former glory. Some worked out well (Messier, Jagr, even Gretzky) while for the most part they, to use an utterly shop-worn tabloid cliche, bombed in their B’way revival (Plante, Sawchuk, Hedberg, Nilsson, Esposito, Hodge, Dionne, Carpenter, Lafleur, Nicholls, Gartner, Kurri, Robitaille, Lindros, Fleury, etc. etc.). Look at the cats who’ve graced our roster in the past decade – McGrady, Hardaway, Jalen Rose, Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury, Van Horn, McDyess, Mutombo, etc. In 2001, that’s an all-star roster. Alas, it isn’t 2001 anymore, Victoria. And there ain’t no Santa Claus.

Look, Walsh went all in for LeBron/Wade. And as my fellow Knickerbloggers/other sportswriters/pundits have written, he had to do it. I’m going to cross the sporting barriers for my take on this: “…The day you say you have to do something, you’re screwed. Because you are going to make a bad deal…” – Billy Beane/Michael Lewis, Moneyball

Say LeBron/Wade gives the ‘Bockers the Heisman. What does Walsh do then? Just let all of that cap space sit there? Doesn’t Walsh, by the same logic then have to overpay Stoudamire/Johnson/Gay (or trade for Arenas – shudder) even if none of them are close to being worth a max deal? Like Thomas B., I’m going to hedge my bets/grades: A+ (LeBron/Wade agrees to be NY’s best girl)/D- (Walshtoni’s so depressed/on the rebound that he throws money/a promise ring at the first vaguely attractive gal who comes his way)

Kevin McElroy: Look everybody, I know we’ve grown accustomed to expecting the worst here. I also know that there is plenty NOT to like about this trade [For example: how’s that “Nate and Jeffries for Kenny Thomas” trade look now? Far be it from me to say “I told you so,” but I think we can put to rest the idea that Walsh was wise to turn down that opportunity because he was waiting on something better (I’m looking at you “Donnie Walsh Report Card” commenters!) I hope for the sake of Walsh’s sleep schedule that rumor was unfounded all along.].

But these are the facts, and they are undisputed: The Knicks, even by the most pessimistic cap projections, will have $32 million in cap space next year. The Knicks have retained David Lee, who can be used in a sign-and-trade this summer. The Knicks have retained Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, the two players who most fans feared would have to be sacrificed to unload Jared Jeffries contract. And the Knicks will enter next season, no matter the free agent machinations, with Eddy Curry’s $11 million dollar expiring contract, allowing them to either make a mid-season trade or add another very good player in the summer of 2011. Make no mistake, the Knicks paid dearly to get here, and if they strike out in free agency, the lost draft picks could haunt them for a decade. But look around, and think about where we were 24 months ago (Isiah in charge, capped out beyond belief, any hope of signing LeBron as faded as my 1998-99 Eastern Conference Champions graphic tee), and realize that you now root for an NBA team with a blank slate, four months before the best basketball player in the world becomes a free agent. And, yes, there is no guarantee that he, or anyone else, is coming. But this was the only reasonable course of action given where the Knicks started and the potential reward.

When Walsh arrived, he inherited three players with cap-killing contracts that extended past 2010. He was widely expected to find takers for ZERO of them. He found takers for THREE of them (Z-Bo, Crawford, Jeffries). This can’t be forgotten. The road here was a bumpy one, but the fact that we’re here at all is cause for quiet celebration. And cause for an A- .

Caleb: For me the key is opportunity cost. Without moving Jeffries, the Knicks ran a real risk of being able to afford only one major free agent, a scenario that probably would have led to signing no one — who would come to MSG, if even David Lee were gone? They were truly, truly desperate.
But the reactions are also just that people can’t believe their eyes. Or they remember the Bulls and Jerry Krause striking out for a couple of years, or they’re quivering at the memory of Isiah throwing $29 million at Jerome James. But free agency isn’t bad, guys. For $3 million, you can get someone better than Jordan Hill. Along those same lines, I think there’s very little chance the lost draft picks are in the teens, much less the lottery, and Walsh has covered his worst-case scenarios. $32 million buys a lot of options, LeBron or no. It won’t be hard to make this team a contender again. The only reason not to give this trade a higher grade is because when both the other teams come away grinning ear to ear, you have to figure you might have paid more than you had to. B

Brian Cronin: Not for nothing, but I believe the most pessimistic cap projections (a cap of $53 million) give the Knicks $31 million. Not a big deal, but you would need more than that to give full maximum contracts to either Lebron, Wade or Bosh. In any event, I think this is a trade that the Knicks had to do, and as Robert notes, when it is clear that you have to do something, other General Managers are going to take advantage of that need, and Daryl Morey is one of the best General Managers in the NBA, so he basically got as much as he could possibly get in this deal – but because the deal had to be made, I think it’s still a worthwhile move. I am on board with the notion of splitting the difference between an A (if this nets either Lebron/Wade, Lebron/Bosh, Wade/Bosh or Lebron/Lee) and F (if this nets no one of note, not even Joe Johnson), so the middle of that is a C.

EDITED TO ADD: I just realized another valuable aspect of this trade. It now allows the Knicks to sign up to $20.5 million worth of free agents (presuming a $53 million cap) while still keeping Lee’s cap hold in place rather than the $11 million worth of free agents before this trade. If they do that, they can then go over the cap to re-sign Lee. That basically puts them into a position where they can pretty much guarantee themselves that they will keep Lee if they want to keep Lee, as they’d be able to match any offer he gets. That’s big. Big enough for me to raise my grade to a B-.

Dave Crockett: You have to give this an incomplete. On the downside, the cost of this flexibility is high. So in one sense, it’s almost impossible to see this deal as an A+. Even in the best case scenario, we win the Yankee way–at a higher cost-per-win than any other team. Nevertheless, I’d rather win than not win. So, we’ll have to see what Donnie does with the flexibility. Its worth noting that the flexibility we have should also extend to sign-and-trades and trades. Incomplete.

Knicks-Rockets-Kings Trade – A Three Blogger Look

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Houston Rockets, New York Knicks, and Sacramento Kings have struck a deal. For the Knicks, it is another step in the plan initiated by Donnie Walsh to curb foolish spending and aim towards free agency. For the Rockets, it is the dawn of a new day, the divorce from an era, and perhaps one of the greatest hauls in franchise history. For the Kings it is space for their rising star Tyreke Evans with regards to the court and perhaps a superstar to team him with. Ironically all teams make this swap looking to the future, but requiring different elements to do so. Mike Kurylo of KnickerBlogger.Net, Rahat Huq of Red94.Net, and Zach Harper of Cowbell Kingdom get together to discuss the teams, the players, and the ramifications of the deal.

To the Rockets
Kevin Martin – $44 million left, expires in 2013
Jordan Hill –  $5.1 million left, expires in 2012 (team option for 2014)
Jared Jeffries – $13.3 million left, expires in 2011
Option to Swap 1st round with NYK in 2011 (top 1 protection)
NYK 2012 1st round pick (top 5 protection)

To the Kings
Carl Landry – $3 million left, expires in 2010 (team options for $3 million for 2011 season)
Joey Dorsey – $1.7 million left, expires in 2011 (team option for $1 million for 2012 season), partially guaranteed in 2011 season
Larry Hughes -$13.7 million left, expires in 2010

To the Knicks
Tracy McGrady – $22.8 million left, expires in 2010
Sergio Rodriguez -$1.6M, expires in 2010 (team option for $2.3M in 2011)

Zach: Kevin Martin was in a lose-lose situation once we saw a glimpse into just what Tyreke Evans could be (November 7th road win in Utah). Martin was going to have to comeback perfectly and he certainly didn’t do so. Upon his return, he struggled with his own scoring at a time in which the Kings were starting to collapse. Martin’s greatest strength has always been getting to the line for easy points and this year he’s only been getting there seven times per game (7.2 fta/36). While seven free throw attempts seems like a lot for most players, it’s the lowest total he’s averaged in four years. That’s what Kevin Martin does; he scores easy points. He finds open spots on the floor, runs off of high screens perfectly and tosses up that funny looking jump shot. You expect it to clank off the side of the backboard because of the shooting motion. Instead, it usually rips through the net as part of the quietest most efficient 25 points per game you’ll see on a nightly basis. He struggled to do that this year on Tyreke Evans’ team. It turned into a treasonous act in the minds of some Kings fans who probably never thought he’d actually be traded. 

Rahat: I think Martin’s skillset will fit beautifully into this Rockets team’s motion offense.  While he isn’t the creating wing I felt this team needs, he will be a huge boost to this offense.  

In Carl Landry, the Kings are receiving one of the most effective inside scorers in the league (career TS% of .630) and the probable 6th-man of the year. Landry is a tireless worker.  He relentlessly attacks the offensive glass.  However, he is a poor defensive rebounder and his totals have been trending downwards. 

The evolution of Carl’s offensive repertoire has been startling.  He came into the league as merely a garbageman, using his extreme athleticism to hang around the basket for easy openings off of passes from Tracy McGrady.  But his athleticism has declined since that rookie season as he re-aggravated a serious injury from college.  While he is still athletic, he no longer appears freakish like he once did.  In his second year, Landry showed off an ability to face up and take his man off the dribble and developed a deadly mid-range jumper.  Due to his size, we thought this would be the extent of his capabilities.  The real surprise has come this year as Carl is now a very effective post scorer, showing off an arsenal of fadeaway jumpers and hooks off of either block.  He has struggled against fronting and double teams in recent weeks but it is unclear whether this is merely due to unfamiliarity with these new approaches.  

Finally, Carl has never been a good defender.  Though he is described as ‘physical’, he does not hold his ground well in the post and is easily mauled over by larger power forwards.  He is also a poor shot-blocker.

Mike: Rahat, earlier in the season you said McGrady “has looked bad” and that “he’s not helping” the Rockets. Do you think he’ll help the Knicks?

Rahat: Overall, he looked bad.  However, this was quite some time ago.  It’s anyone’s guess right now if the struggles were due to permanent physical regression or rust/the natural readjustment after surgery.  He was still surprisingly effective as an individual defender, never really getting beat laterally.  (This was pretty odd as he seemed to have little to no explosion offensively.)  The problem for us was that this Rockets team wins through pace and hustle.  McGrady was too slow to keep up on the break and made little effort to help defensively – that wasn’t going to cut it here.  It’s tough to say whether he will help the Knicks because there is the possibility that he was able to work off more of the rust during his latest hiatus.  I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.  His days as a frontline star are over, but I think he can still be a factor, situationally. 

Mike: If you were D’Antoni, how would you use him in the offense?

Rahat: I’m not completely familiar with the Knicks’ offense so I can only assess McGrady’s capabilities.  Primarily what he brings, contrary to popular belief, is passing.  For McGrady, the passing will always be there – he’s the best passing wing this league has ever seen, rivaled only by James.  It was remarkable to see that even in his regressed state, he could still effectively create plays for his teammates.  Just absolutely remarkable.  He can hold the ball at the key, in stationary position, and blindly hit cutters without needing to actually beat his man off the dribble.  He also never makes mistakes.  It’s never been mentioned, but as far as court IQ, he’s in the league’s top 99th percentile. 

As for the rest of his game:

He can still create space for his jumper because he is so incredibly skilled/coordinated: he uses a jab step-left to free himself for his pet shot at the elbow.  Unfortunately, he is not a good shooter (TS% of .487% in his last healthy season; bottom 5th in league) so this is not an aspect of his game one’s offense would want to feature. 

Interestingly, while most of his shots come in motion off his own dribble, he might actually be a far better set shooter.  He looked very good on the few set shots he took last year, but he rarely attempts them.  We will also need to see how much lift he has on his shot upon return, because for McGrady, that is crucial.  He has looked flat in recent years and that has contributed to his drastic decline. 

Moving on, McGrady struggles scoring off the catch/curl/cut.  In fact, he is the antithesis of a “willing cutter.”  To be effective, he has to have the ball in his hands. 

Mike: As I said earlier, one way I would advocate the Knicks acquiring McGrady was if he were able to push Duhon to the bench. Duhon has just killed New York this year, especially with regards to scoring in the paint – going as far as passing up open layups. Honestly I think Duhon is probably the worst NBA player I’ve ever seen with regards to scoring inside. 

With that in mind, how has McGrady been with respect to:
1. Scoring inside?
2. Playing point guard?

Rahat:

1. Scoring inside – even when healthy, scoring inside has been Tracy McGrady’s achilles heel since I have been following him.  Hard to believe because we all remember the dunks from his younger days.  As he has aged, most likely out of fear, he just simply avoids driving to the basket at all costs.  This includes the 4th quarter of Game 7’s with opponents in the penalty.  If you look at my game analysis during his return, he did valiantly try to drive to the hole on certain occasions, much more aggressively than in years past, most likely in hopes of assuaging the concerns of watching eyes.  The problem was that he simply did not have even a modicum of explosion.  As I said earlier, that could possibly change as the leg builds strength, but his fear of contact will not.  Even moreso than help defense, inside scoring is the last thing one can hope to expect from Tracy McGrady.

2. Playing point guard – At this point in Tracy’s career, based on what I saw in those games, I think he can only be effective in this league as a point guard.  He doesn’t shoot well enough to justify a role at the ‘2.’  If he’s on the court, to offset some of the negatives, you want to be utilizing his passing for a net gain.  So I could see him as sort of an extreme-new-age version of Ron Harper (of Chicago Bulls three-peat fame) going forward. 

There’s two problems: 1) I’m still not sure it would work unless it was Fratello’s Cavs.  Tracy won’t push the pace.  For this reason, you could use him off the bench, but I don’t see it happening as a starter.  2) He doesn’t have a prayer against 1’s defensively.  You would need to mask that by pairing him with a 2 capable of taking those duties.  In his return, I never saw him get beat laterally, but this was in defending bulky small forwards.  It won’t work against NBA point guards.

Mike: The Knicks defensive schemes have a lot of switching, so individual match-ups don’t matter as much. However New York just traded three guys that could have played alongside McGrady well. Jared Jeffries, Nate Robinson, and Larry Hughes all could have guarded the point guard position, allowing T-Mac to run the offense while  defending a wing. Additionally Jeffries/Hughes would have given New York a lengthy lineup, while Nate Robinson could have been inserted alongside T-Mac as a shooting guard and be freed of trying to play point. 

Duhon has been the Achilles Heel on offense, but the problem is no one else was able to step up. D’Antoni tried Hughes and Robinson, but the coach has little patience with shooting guards masquerading as points. With McGrady as possibility at point guard, and adding Sergio Rodriguez, perhaps D’Antoni can end Duhon’s stranglehold on the starting spot. 

Zach: Sergio Rodriguez will be perfect for a team like New York that has nothing of substance at the point guard position. He pushes the tempo, pulls passes out of orifices and finds a way to make a positive impact. He’s the Kings leader in +/- this year and it’s legit. When he’s on the court, he makes things happen. Is he going to be able to defend anybody? Not a chance. Not to mention, his jumper is suspect. But he is a facilitator that will be fun to watch for Knicks fans.

Rahat: Tell me about Jordan Hill.  Is this someone upon whom I can pin future hopes?  In my diligent investigations prior to the consummation of this deal, what I gathered led me to the conclusion that he most likely sucks.  Is this a fair assessment?  

Mike: I have to say I was very down on the drafting of Hill. A few statistical evaluations had him as being overrated by the scouts, and the Knicks sorely needed a point guard (see my rant on Duhon above). Hill is raw, which is a bit of a red flag for a guy that didn’t come out as a underclassmen. Watching him I’ve been slightly impressed compared to my low expectations, so I think the word “sucks” is a bit of a stretch. He certainly has the athleticism to be a good NBA player. Hill can rebound & block shots, and he does have an outside jumper.

The big problem is his inside scoring – he seems to shy away from the hoop and use fade aways instead of going strong. Even when he has a point blank shot, he’ll occasionally miss. It’s like Hill has no clue how to score in the paint. Additionally, he’s a little lost on the defensive end, but you expect that from any first year player. Off the top of my head, I’d say he’s a less heady and less polished Kurt Thomas. From the three minutes I spent interviewing him he’s a happy-go-lucky nice guy, which means he doesn’t have Kurt’s mean streak either.

Rahat: Henry Abbott wrote a piece earlier in the year on Jared Jeffries, describing his defensive impact on the court.  Is he a zero offensively?  Just how bad is he?  Perhaps even more importantly, does he know his limitations?  Offensively, there’s Shane Battier-bad and Trevor Ariza-bad.  The latter can be disastrous and painful to watch.

Mike: Jeffries has exactly one skill on the offensive side – rebounding. Earlier I said Chris Duhon is the worst NBA scorer in the paint I ever witnessed, well Jeffries is a close second. It’s baffling at 6-11 how many shots from point blank he’ll miss. Throw in the turnovers and he’s not a zero but rather a complete negative on that side of the court. Jeffries does seem to know this and often will pass up open opportunities, but I think the coaching staff is encouraging him to take open shots & drives. He’s been doing more of that this year, but without much success.

He does bring a lot on the defensive side, but don’t expect a lock down defender ala Ron Artest or a fly swatter like Josh Smith. Just a smart guy that will take a bunch of charges, can cover just about anybody, and will do more good than bad.

As for Larry Hughes, he can still defend on the wing a little, but his offense just isn’t there anymore. He had a hot streak earlier this year, and D’Antoni used him often. But once his luck vanished, so did his playing time. Perhaps he’ll get some burn in Sacramento and will finally be able to shave his beard. But I’m guessing for the Kings, this move isn’t about Larry Hughes.

Zach: I think the move has two huge components. The Kings now have great flexibility in the years before Tyreke Evans gets to start thinking extension. I know that’s a bit extreme considering we’re still in his rookie campaign but this franchise will be built around him and Geoff Petrie just got as close to a blank slate as he’s ever going to get. So yes, in a way this was largely a move for cap space. Secondly, the Kings just acquired their best low post scorer since Chris Webber (and he kept hanging around the elbow). Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes are full of potential and hope but Carl Landry is a guy that will get results. Not only does he produce in the post but he does it at a cheap price. At some point in the next year, Sacramento will get to decide if he is worth keeping, how much it will cost and where he fits into the core. And they get a nice window to judge everything properly. If they don’t think it will work out long-term there will be dozens and dozens of NBA teams wanting to acquire his Bird Rights and scoring ability. The Kings just became the biggest transaction player for the next year. That’s the biggest impact of all of this. 

Mike: You could argue that the Rockets got the best player in this deal. So how do you feel about it?

Rahat: I’m simply speechless right now.  I haven’t yet taken this all in.  It was a good deal when it was just, essentially, Landry for Martin.  But the Knicks’ part of our haul?  Daryl Morey might have just rebuilt this entire franchise in one swoop this afternoon.  I don’t think I can appropriately articulate the significance of this move in this space provided.  

Mike: Funny thing is that I’m not crazy about this trade from the Knicks perspective. I feel as if New York is paying too much for getting out of Jeffries’ contract, perhaps if it were the useless and more expensive Eddy Curry I would be OK with it. Sending any one of Jordan Hill, a first round pick, or an option to swap firsts seems reasonable to unload his contract. But all three seem to be overkill. On top of it, according to NBA salary cap expert Larry Coon, even with this trade New York can’t sign two max guys and keep David Lee. Perhaps being able to get a second near max guy (for ~ $14.8M) is the thing that puts them over the top for signing LeBron, but it’s an awful big risk. 

I know I’m in the minority with my opinion, and perhaps I’m more optimistic on the Knicks chances of grabbing a top free agent without this move. I’m not against moving Jeffries, obviously, I’m just against the cost. Here’s one final thing for Knick fans to consider: what does the team do with McGrady if he’s a good fit for D’Antoni’s offense? Do the Knicks consider re-signing him in the summer considering McGrady’s injury history? How much, or rather how little, will McGrady take to stay? Lots of things to keep New Yorkers buzzing while the other half of the league is in the playoffs.

Knicks 107, Wizards 85 – Duhon Sits

Chris Duhon sat for the second half of the Knicks 107-85 win last night against the Wizards. I went back & checked all the games where Duhon played less than 24 minutes, and couldn’t find any where the Knicks point guard failed to appear in the second half. In other words, for the first time in the D’Antoni era, he benched Duhon.

The move is something I’ve advocated here for some time. Duhon has been under performing for the entire season, with a harmful/feeble combo of 8.7 pts/36 and 48.2% TS%. The Knicks coach went with Robinson, Hughes, and the seldom used Marcus Landry in the guard position.

What’s is most interesting to watch is how D’Antoni handles this going forward. As I mentioned previously, there’s little space between being in the Knicks rotation and racking up DNP-CDs. For the last year and a half, the point guard spot has been dominated by Chris Duhon. Obviously this is going to change how the lineup looks going forward. I guess the big question is who will emerge as the Knicks point guard? Can the diminutive Robinson pull a 180 on his 2010 season, and end up in D’Antoni’s favor? Will Larry Hughes, the Ghandi of NBA-bench related facial hair, revive his descending career? Can Toney Douglas emerge as the PG of the future? Or will Duhon take this benching to heart and solve what’s been vexing him?

Chris Duhon: A Midseason Look

During halftime of the Dallas game, Coach D’Antoni said the only thing wrong with Duhon was that he wasn’t hitting shots (eFG% 44.8).  Sure, and the only thing wrong with the Titanic was a small hole in its hull.  D’Antoni mentioned Duhon’s assist to turnover rating (37.0 Ast-R), and total assist (6.7 per/36) in defense of his point.  Unfortunately, Duhon’s passing numbers, while good, simply are not strong enough to make up for his abysmal shooting. Duhon’s TS% of 48.3 (28th of starting point guards) is about the same as noted brick layers Jared Jeffries (48.4) and Larry Hughes (47.4). 

It’s an understatement for D’Antoni to say that Duhon is just struggling with his shot.  The complete story is that Duhon does not have a well developed offensive game. His shot distribution sheds light on his limitations as an offensive contributor.

Duhon attempts 8 field goals per game. 57.7% of those shots are three pointers that Duhon hits at a four year low of 34.4%.  Duhon compounds his offensive struggles by showing no interest in the mid range game (1.2 fga between 10-23 feet) and no aptitude for finishing drives.  Duhon attempts 1.8 shots at the rim (dunks or layups) and he only hits 42.9% of those attempts.  Nate Robinson takes more attempts at the rim (2.5) and converts 50.9%.  I guess defenses don’t realize that Duhon won’t take a 17 footer, and that he can’t hit a lay up.  If they did, his pick and rolls with Lee would be really easy to defend.  Duhon is only attempting 1.7 free throws per game.  So we can add inability to draw contact to the list of offensive shortcomings.

It would be nice to see Duhon change his game to draw more fouls, take more mid range shots, or improve his finishing, but that seems unlikely at this point in his career.  The location of Duhon’s shots, and his shooting percentages have been pretty consistent over the past four years.  At best, we can hope for a slight improvement in his eFG%.  However, that seems unlikely if Duhon shows the same late season drop in productivity he had in the 08-09 season. Due to the lack of other options (D’Antoni sees Robinson as a shooting guard and Toney Douglas has failed to make the rotation), it’s highly likely that D’Antoni will stick with Duhon for the rest of the year.