Trading Nate, The Logistics

With Nate Robinson in D’Antoni’s doghouse it’s only natural for Knick fans to expect the diminutive guard to be traded. Nate is in the last year of his deal, and if he isn’t getting playing time now, then it seems unlikely that New York is going to tender him a long term deal. Additionally considering Nate’s instant offense and other tangibles, he’ll likely be courted by a few different teams. Hence it makes the most sense for the Knicks to move him this year, before they get nothing in return for their investment.

Unfortunately trades in the NBA are rarely as easy as finding a match in talent. You also have to be mindful of the salary cap & the rules that accompany it. For instance there have been rumors of the Knicks interested in Tyrus Thomas, but the teams couldn’t swap the two straight up due to the cap rules. And this is where things get interesting.

In the NBA any trade involving teams over the salary cap has to be within of 125% plus $0.1M of the contracts given up. This means if the Knicks traded someone that was making $4M, the most they could get back in contacts is $5.1M ($4M * 1.25 + $0.1M). However there is a rule in place for Base Year Compensation players (BYC) which is meant to prevent teams from signing players solely to match contracts in order to make trades. This was put in place to prevent teams from let’s say giving Morris Almond $10M to trade him with a future first for Luol Deng.

New York signed Robinson for $4M this year, but according to ESPN his BYC amount is $2.02M. This means that when calculating how much the Knicks can receive, we use $2.02M, and when calculating how much the other team can receive it uses $4M. Under the salary cap rules, a team that sends out $2.02M can only receive $2.54M in salaries, hence this makes it impossible to do a 1 for 1 BYC deal with a team over the cap.

Since the calculation is based on a percentage, the only way for a team to trade a BYC player is to include enough salaries so that the team is within the allowed threshold. Figuring out this how much requires a little bit of arithmetic. Solve for x where: $4M + X – (1.25*($2.02M+X)) = $0.1M, and X = $5.5M. So in order to trade Nate Robinson the Knicks would have to include at least $5.5M in salaries.

Knowing this makes for some interesting trade possibilities. One way to work a Nate Robinson for Tyrus Thomas trade would be to add shot-blocking bench-warming centers Darko Milicic ($7.54M) and Jerome James ($6.6M). If the Knicks wanted to shed some salary for the summer, they could include Jared Jeffries ($6.47M) and the Malik Rose trade exception ($0.9M) instead of Darko.

What if, as rumored, the Bulls want Al Harrington? Then the two could do Nate, Harrington and the Quentin Richardson exception for Thomas & Brad Miller. Too one sided for Chicago? Then perhaps the deal could be expanded to something like Thomas, Noah and Miller, for Nate, Harrington, Darko, and Jordan Hill. Although I don’t expect the Bulls to trade Noah so easily, it’s not a ridiculous deal. The Bulls plan on replacing Thomas with Taj Gibson anyway, and Al Harrington would probably eat up some of those minute and more. Between Harrington and Nate, the Bulls wouldn’t lack for scoring. They would be losing a bit at center, but Jordan Hill would give them a young option there.

In any case the Knicks and Bulls do have some options and flexibility in generating a trade. Moving Robinson is easier than moving David Lee because of the smaller salary. To trade Lee, the Knicks would have to pile on $10.1M in salary. Although you have to consider that New York isn’t likely to move Lee, given that he’s the team’s best player and leads them in minutes.

2009 Report Card: Chris Wilcox

The Knicks acquired Chris Wilcox in February in exchange for a barely used Malik Rose. It seemed that Wilcox was going to play center and push the undersized David Lee back to power forward, but instead Wilcox spelled Lee at center. Looking at his most frequent 5-man units from 82games, Lee doesn’t appear in any of them.

Watching Wilcox play, gave me a new appreciation of Lee. Both players have a similar style, but Wilcox lags behind in multiple areas. He was less efficient when it comes to inside scoring, and he was less able to stretch the offense. According to 82games, 80% of his attempts were inside. If the knock on Lee is his desire to stay near the hoop, then Wilcox must be tethered to it. And despite playing with the same support cast, David out rebounds Chris by a far margin. Wilcox’s one saving grace is his adequate block rate.

Name Jump eFG Inside eFG Inside % reb/36 to/36 ast/36 blk/36
Wilcox 35.0 57.3 80% 8.9 2.2 1.5 0.9
Lee 35.2 64.1 68% 12.1 1.9 2.2 0.3

Even though New York is still short on big men, they decided not to keep Wilcox for 2010. Newly acquired Darko Milicic and Eddy Curry are likely to take any minutes that would have gone to Wilcox. I guess the Knicks have filled their quota of lottery center busts.

Report Card (5 point scale):
Offense: 2
Defense: 2
Teamwork: 2
Rootability: 1
Performance/Expectations: 2

Grade: D F I was going to give Wilcox a D, until I remembered this. If I recall correctly, he did this more than once as a Knick.

Similarity Scores:

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS% eFG% PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Chris Wilcox 2009 TOT 13.2 .517 .496 15.3 3.3 9.5 1.6 0.9 0.5 2.6
.024 Pat Cummings 1983 DAL 14.6 .526 .493 15.8 3.5 10.4 2.2 0.9 0.5 2.5
.032 Rick Robey 1982 BOS 11.0 .511 .493 13.8 3.5 9.0 2.1 0.8 0.4 2.8
.033 Marc Jackson 2001 GSW 16.1 .534 .471 16.2 3.0 9.2 1.5 0.9 0.7 2.4
.045 Mike Jackson 1976 VIR 13.2 .549 .499 15.8 3.4 9.8 1.8 0.7 0.5 3.1
.046 Jason Caffey 2000 GSW 12.4 .515 .479 14.2 3.2 8.0 2.0 1.0 0.3 2.8
.054 Kenny Carr 1982 TOT 14.7 .543 .504 16.7 3.1 9.9 1.6 1.2 0.4 2.8
.061 Kenny Thomas 2004 PHI 15.9 .527 .469 13.4 3.5 10.0 1.5 1.1 0.4 2.3
.071 Armen Gilliam 1991 TOT 15.5 .542 .487 16.9 3.0 8.1 1.4 0.9 0.7 2.4
.073 Dwight Jones 1979 HOU 10.9 .505 .458 13.6 3.3 9.7 1.7 1.0 0.8 3.0

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.

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.

Knicks Make Small Gains

New York pulled the trigger on two deals today before the NBA trade deadline. The bad news is that neither deal opens up any more cap space for 2010. The good news is that the moves will give the team a little more flexibility this year. In the bigger deal, New York acquired Larry Hughes for Jerome James, Tim Thomas, and Anthony Roberson. In a second deal, the Knicks sent Malik Rose to Oklahoma City for Chris Wilcox. Hughes will make $12.8M this year and $13.7M next year, while Wilcox’s $6.8M contract will expire this year. Hence from a salary cap perspective, this is a lateral move for the Knicks.

The most obvious improvement is in the Wilcox/Rose deal. Malik Rose saw playing time early on, but has been racking up DNP-CDs since. The veteran has played in only three games since Christmas. Wilcox is 8 years younger, and has been productive. Although his PER is down this year (13.4), he’s had an above PER the two years prior (16.3 in 2008 & 16.6 in 2007). He should provide the Knicks with much needed depth at the F/C spots, and that alone will help the team this year. I’m not sure why the Thunder made this deal, unless they’re eying Rose for a coaching position.

As for the Knicks other deal, it’s not necessarily who they got that makes them better. Larry Hughes is an aging slasher/defender who perhaps was never a great defender despite his reputation. Kevin Broom and I used to discuss Hughes’ defense, and Broom thought that Hughes’ gambles on the defensive end hurt the team. As for the slasher aspect, Hughes averaged 6.9 FT/36 in 2005 and that number has decreased in every full year since (5.4 in 2006, 4.3 in 2007, 3.4 in 2008). That means he’s either not able or not willing to get to the hole more, which would explain his tumbling shooting numbers. This year has been a small rebound year for Hughes, as his TS% has increased nearly 60 points from last year (TS% 52.5%) But at this point it’s possible due to the small sample size instead of a real improvement.

What’s more important about the Bulls trade is that the Knicks unloaded three players for one. Much like Malik Rose (160 minutes played), Jerome James (10 min) and Anthony Roberson (253 min) have seen few minutes this year. With New York wasting roster spots on these three plus Curry (3 min) and Stephon Marbury (0 min), the team has been playing shorthanded nearly the entire year. With two new roster spots freed, the Knicks can grab two players from the D-League to fit specific roles (shot blocker?, point guard?) that the team needs.

In both of these deals New York has given up only one player who was in their rotation: Tim Thomas. The Knicks will be able to replace his role on the team with two players. The first is Wilcox who will give New York a big body to defend the post. The second is Gallinari who will provide scoring from the perimeter. Giving the rookie more playing time is the icing on the cake for the Knicks.

The Bench Needs a Nickname

Following Monday night’s come-from-behind win over the Yao-less Rockets, the first win over Houston in five years no less, Alan Hahn drops this little nugget in Tuesday morning’s Newsday.

Chandler’s 18 points off the bench, however, bolstered yet another strong offensive showing by the Knicks’ reserves, who totaled 52 points. The corps is begging for a nickname. It was the fourth straight game the bench scored more than 50 points.

I think a bench nickname is a pretty good idea. This team, especially the bench, has grown on me enough to warrant some sort of nickname. What do you all think about a nickname for the bench?

One idea that came to mind is “the bum-proof bench.” It’s got a nice beat and you can dance to it. Actually, it’s a takeoff on Mike Davis’s quip about postmodern urban architecture, where ostensibly public benches are designed to be impossibly uncomfortable for sitting, or in the case of the homeless, for sleeping.

Mike D’Antoni’s bench has not been made for sitting much this year. Although D’Antoni has played to type with his notoriously short rotations, lots of players have shuffled in and out of the starting lineup for a variety of reasons. The Knicks are essentially playing without the roster spots technically being filled by Marbury, Curry, and James. The latter two, the players thought least well-suited for D’Antoni’s offense, haven’t played because of poor conditioning, injury, and in Curry’s case personal misfortune and family tragedy. Really, Malik Rose is the only classic DNP-CD-type left on the bench.

A Bum-proof bench in New York?
New York's Bum-Proof Bench

Of course, there is the matter of whether Jared Jeffries, who currently comes off the bench, is a bum. Given his minutes and theoretical role (i.e., size on the perimeter and overall defensive versatility) I wouldn’t call him a bum, especially when he plays short minutes. I may, however, be in the minority on that.

“Bum-proof bench” is just one man’s idea. What do you guys think? In a display of good netiquette, you might drop by Hahn’s blog, The Knicks Fix, one of my favorites among the traditional media types, to share your ideas with him directly.

Roster Spots

Recently there’s been some discussion in the comment section at KnickerBlogger about the Knicks roster needs. Coach D’Antoni is known to keep the rotation short, but a 7 man team seems to be small even for him. The problem seems to be the lack of quality at the end of the Knicks’ bench.

Malik Rose saw time early on, but D’Antoni probably got tired of seeing Rose end up with the ball under the hoop and unable to finish. (I sure was!) Roberson made a name for himself in the summer league, but played his way out of the rotation. Jared Jeffries, who was supposed to perform a cocoon act reborn as a D’Antoni center, has been more caterpillar than butterfly. Additionally the Knicks have Eddy Curry who is suffering from a knee injury, Danilo Gallinari who is suffering from a back injury, and Jerome James who is suffering from sucking. James actually saw some live court time in the Knicks blowout of the Kings, but even against Shaq, James and his valuable 6 fouls stayed rooted to the bench.

Obviously most of these guys are not good enough (or healthy enough) to help the team this year. With the retirement of Mobley and the possible buyout of Marbury, the Knicks may have two roster spots open. But the question remains what kind of player(s) do the Knicks need?

The most glaring need is guard, or more specifically point guard. Duhon takes the lion’s share of the duties, with Robinson giving him a breather for a few minutes a night. This works out when the pair are healthy, but recently Robinson’s injury exposed the lack of depth. The Knicks third (and last) guard on the roster, Roberson, was unable to run the point. Roberson is more of a undersized scorer, and D’Antoni was so reluctant to use him that the he prefered the Knicks to have 5 forwards on the court instead of Roberson guiding the offense.

New York needs a point guard, not to make the rotation but rather to provide insurance in case either Duhon or Robinson get hurt again. Even if an injury forces this guard into action, they would only see 5-10 minutes to give the starter some breathing time. The Knicks don’t even need to swing a deal to acquire a player of this type. Jared Jordan was just signed to a NBDL team, and former Knick Frank Williams is already one of that league’s better point guards.

As for the second roster spot, interior defense is an issue, but this is a hard need to fill. Players that can block shots, rebound, run the floor, and don’t embarrass themselves on offense are much more difficult to find. To borrow from David Berri, there’s a short supply of tall people. The Knicks wouldn’t be able to grab a player like this off the developmental league or waiver wire. They might be able to find a player that does two of these, but that player isn’t likely to break the rotation. A player like Joakim Noah might be a good fit, but the Knicks are low on resources to make a trade like that.

Instead the Knicks should concentrate on another weakness: small forward. Wilson Chandler has supplanted Quentin Richardson from the starting lineup, and has performed admirably for a 21 year old. However Chandler shows his age often. He settles for the jump shot too often, isn’t great at finishing around the hoop and doesn’t pass well. I can’t think of another player that hits the backboard on the corner three as often as Wilson. Although he’s the Knicks best shot blocker in the rotation, he’s not freakishly athletic like Prince or Marion.

On one hand I’m reluctant to suggest the Knicks grab another SF, since that may cut into Chandler’s time. And on a rebuilding team, giving minutes to your young small forward is a good thing. However in a Hermian world where teams play to win the game, getting a SF that can rebound, defend the paint, and score inside would help the team greatly. Of course the Knicks gave away just that type of player (Balkman) and it’s likely the Knicks will grab Ewing Jr. in an attempt to fill that role.

John Hollinger usually notes that when a team suffers from an injured player, it’s not the drop-off from the starter to the first reserve that hurts the team the most. But rather the team suffers because they have to dig deeper into the bench to replace the minutes that the reserve player used to fill. The Knicks started off the season with a decent rotation, but as injuries and trades have robbed them of quality players, the end of the bench has come back to haunt them. Even if players like James, Marbury, and Rose aren’t playing much, they’re taking up roster spots of players that could be contributing. By robbing the team of players that might prove useful even in spot minutes, these players are hurting the team just as much as if they were playing badly on the court.