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

I wanted Chris Taft.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee Chart 1

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

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

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

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

Lee Chart 2

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

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

Lee Chart 3

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

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

Lee Chart 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee chart 5

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

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

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

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

Lee Chart 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking To Last Year For Answers

At the start of the season, it was expected that the Knicks would improve on their 32-50 record from the prior year. However the team is under performing and is on pace to win 28 games. With the team failing to meet even their own low standards, it’d be nice to pinpoint exactly what’s going wrong. A good starting place would be to compare this team to last year’s using four factor statistics.

Year       EFF  eFG%  TO% REB% FTFG
2009 Off 108.1  50.3 14.7 24.4 21.0
2010 Off 106.4  50.5 14.9 23.2 19.3

Year       EFF  eFG%  TO% REB% FTFG
2009 Def 110.8  52.0 14.9 27.3 21.5 
2010 Def 109.8  51.7 15.6 27.7 21.2

Oddly New York is a little better defensively than they were last year. The change is due to an uptick in turnovers, and perhaps a minor improvement in shooting percentage allowed. On the other hand the offense has clearly regressed, with more than a point and a half decline per 100 possessions. While the shooting percentage and turnovers are just about the same, rebounding and free throws have fallen considerably.

Grabbing rebounds and drawing fouls are two specialties of David Lee. Compared to last year, Lee’s oreb/36 has slid from 3.3 to a mediocre 2.6 and his fta/36 has gone from 4.2 to 3.8. Perhaps his role in this year’s offense is one of the reasons for the decline, because D’Antoni tends to start the half court offense with Lee on the perimeter orchestrating. This has increased David’s assist numbers (from 2.2 to 3.4 ast/36) but it seems to come at the expense of his other strengths. The typical counterargument for this is that having the Knicks keep the opposing center on the perimeter opens up the middle for the rest of the team. However the team stats contradict such an assertion, with the shooting percentage staying level and the number of fouls in the paint decreasing.

Lee isn’t the only offender in recovering his team’s misses. Gallinari has been inserted into the starting lineup, and he’s only pulling 0.8 oreb/36 which is feeble for a 6-10 player. And one of last year’s New York’s best glass cleaners, Nate Robinson (1.6 oreb/36) was benched earlier in the season and now has been traded away. Even Jeffries’ 3.5 oreb/36 was marginalized to 2.4 oreb/36, a sign that it was a fundamental change in the team’s philosophy that contributed to this decline.

But it’s New York’s free throws that might be hurting them the most. One culprit is Chris Duhon whose production has dipped from 2.6 fta/36 to a pitiful 1.7 fta/36. Duhon has been benched in favor of Rodriguez, however this problem might not have been addressed as Sergio is no threat in the paint either (2.2 fta/36). And again Nate Robinson was a big help here, but his numbers saw a huge decline in 2010 (4.8 to 2.7 fta/36).

If I had to build a narrative based on this data, I’d say that the fault lies in a combination of the roster and plan put together by the coaching staff. Perhaps David Lee has become more of a complete player this year, but looking at the results from a team level you have to question the cost. His game has been slowly been pulled away from the basket (his offensive rebounding per minute numbers have dropped every year since 2007) and perhaps in the course of rounding his game out the pendulum has swung too far in that direction. Similarly Nate Robinson was marginalized in an attempt to transform him from a shooting guard into a point guard.

One perspective on the team was that Lee’s unidimensional game and Nate’s out of control play as attributes holding the team back. Well those problems were addressed, and the team has only gotten worse. In D’Antoni’s defense the Knick roster isn’t exactly brimming with talent, but a good coach find his player’s strengths and his strategy adheres to those attributes. New York’s coach appears to be too unbending in his philosophy, and looking at the history of the team’s guards in his tenure shows a mismanagement of talent. Marbury, Richardson, Hughes, and Robinson have all been run out of town. Meanwhile Duhon has stuck around much longer than he should have, and Toney Douglas is still on the fringe of the rotation. D’Antoni is known as being a great offensive point guard in his career, but he’s failed to turn that into anything tangible so far.

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.

Does T-Mac Make Sense For New York?

New York Post writer and Stephon Marbury aficionado Marc Berman penned an article titled “T-Mac or bust” in Sunday’s paper.

If the Knicks don’t get McGrady, the Jazz can start making reservations in May for a hotel in Secaucus for the NBA Draft Lottery.

Let’s be real. The current Knicks, 10 games under .500, aren’t making the playoffs without a big upgrade. How cool would it be if the Jazz, which own the Knicks’ first-round pick, had a sense of humor and put assistant coach Scott Layden on the Secaucus dais — a familiar spot during his woeful Knicks presidential term.

Now this isn’t an original idea by Berman; the thought of the Knicks acquiring McGrady has been floating around for some bit. I guess the better question is whether or not McGrady will help the Knicks. Based on his location and production, you can break down McGrady’s career into three stages: the teenager in Toronto, the centerpiece in Orlando, and the sidekick in Houston.

TEAM  PTS TS% 3P% AST  TO  
TOR  16.1 51% 28% 3.6 2.3 
ORL  25.7 54% 36% 4.7 2.4
HOU  22.3 51% 32% 5.5 2.5

McGrady’s scoring in Orlando was pretty good, as he averaged 25.7 pts/36 with a decent TS% of 54%. However outside of those years, T-Mac has been a high volume/low percentage scorer. There’s a clear downward trend in his shooting efficiency since 2003, and in the last 5 years McGrady has had a TS% over 50% only once, an awful rate for someone that shoots so often. On the other hand his assists have risen, so perhaps he’s been able to help the offense a little more over the years by distributing better.

If the Knicks did swing a deal with Houston, it begs the question “whose minutes would T-Mac take?” If you look at it from a positional standpoint (SG/SF), then either Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler would see a reduction in playing time. Gallo (TS% 58.6%) is shooting extremely well and even Wilson Chandler (52.5%) is a more efficient scorer than McGrady. In this situation the Knicks would be downgrading their production.

If you envision D’Antoni as someone who blurs the line with positions, then it’s possible for McGrady to supplant point guard Chris Duhon in the rotation. New York could go guard-less with McGrady, Chandler, Jeffries, Gallinari, and Lee. On defense the Knicks might have to use Jeffries on the opposing point guard, zone up, or even insert Nate Robinson in the lineup, now that it appears Nate’s willing to go over screens. On offense as long as McGrady didn’t dominate the action, he’d be an improvement over the anemic Duhon (TS% 47.4, 8.6 pts/36). Consequently such a tall lineup would give D’Antoni a lot of flexibility and might be problematic for some opponents.

In the right situation, McGrady could be an upgrade to the offense, perhaps a low usage situation could restore his efficiency to the NBA’s average. However the cost could be too high. Berman mentioned in his column that the Rockets are interested in something more than just swapping cap relief. For New York to give up a young player such as Hill or Douglas doesn’t make much sense for a team whose goal is the summer of 2010 (not the spring). Additionally the possibility that D’Antoni uses McGrady instead of anyone other than Duhon and the unlikelihood that T-Mac becomes more efficient (especially after another injury) makes it a less palatable deal for the Knicks.

The Knicks not might make the playoffs, but bringing in McGrady may not improve their chances all that much. T-Mac would be an upgrade over Duhon, but that speaks more about Duhon’s poor play. Point guard is clearly the team’s weakest link, and maybe they’d be better off swinging a small deal or sending Duhon to the bench in lieu of a Robinson/Douglas combo.

The D’Antoni Rules

The rotation is short.

This is a well known characteristic of D’Antoni. The Knicks employed 11 players in the blowout win against Indiana, which is rare for him. The last time D’Antoni went into double digits was December 2nd against Orlando. In between those two games D’Antoni used 8 players every game (including 11 straight) except for two contests where 9 players saw the floor. Factor in that the 8th guy usually doesn’t see a lot of minutes, and it’s essentially a 7 man rotation. For instance Eddy Curry saw “action” in 3 of those games, but he didn’t play more than 7 minutes in any of those games. D’Antoni’s rotation is much like you’d expect from a playoff team. The best guys (according to him) get the lions share of the minutes, a few other guys come in for breathers, and everyone else has front row seats to an NBA game.

You’re either in or your out.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground with D’Antoni. The Knicks coach has stated that he doesn’t like to put veterans in for spot minutes, prefering to keep them on the bench instead of bringing them in cold. He has repeated this frequently, especially when asked about bringing in a non-rotation player for offensive or defensive purposes in a single critical possession (Darko Milicic, Jerome James, etc.). Chances are if a player is seeing minutes, they’ll continue to get court time. And the converse is true as well.

Injuries doesn’t constitute succession

This was apparent last year when the Knicks were short on guards due to the Crawford trade, Mobley injury, and Marbury refusal. Instead of going to the next guy on the bench like most coaches would, D’Antoni ignored Roberson. New York rode Duhon into the hardwood and even went guardless at times, rather than turn to someone on the end of the pine. So if a player thinks that an injury means that coach D will be forced to insert them into the game, then they’re misguided.

If you’re suddenly out of the rotation, don’t expect a greeting card to make you aware of the fact.

Granted this is a leap for yours truly to state, because I’m not omni-present in the team lockerroom. However Larry Hughes was quoted as saying:

“It’s easy to communicate with a grown man,” Hughes said. “It’s a long season and you always want to have dialog and talk things out. I definitely want the dialog. Let guys know where they stand and you can voice opinions on both sides.

“There’s nothing wrong with voicing an opinion because they’re not facts. It’s what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling. Just to have communication, I think, goes a long way in this league.”

This isn’t the first time a player (or Hughes for that matter) has been unhappy with a lack of playing time and went public about it. However in this case it seems that Hughes isn’t just lashing out from spite. Compare this to Darko’s rant on NBA coaches, and Hughes’ request seems downright reasonable. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that D’Antoni communicates his lineup changes to his players.

From these rules it’s easier to understand D’Antoni’s priorities. He seems to favor continuity & familiarity over strategic match ups. Granted there are deficiencies to D’Antoni’s system, most notably the lack of time for players outside of the rotation. But even this has its benefits as a young player could crack the starting lineup and see lots of playing time (see Wilson Chandler, 2009). Of course the lack of communication is a serious issue as well. However this system has its fair share of positives. Over the life of KnickerBlogger, I’ve criticized Knick coaches for not putting out a lineup that forced the opposition to adjust to New York’s strengths. And this is exactly what D’Antoni does. If you watched the Indiana game, Hibbert looked like a slow plodding dinosaur against the more agile Knicks.

Fortunately for D’Antoni, New York’s roster is conducive to such a set of rules. The Knicks can play the 6-11 Jared Jeffries at any spot, and D’Antoni has put him on both centers and point guards. Chris Duhon and David Lee can always shift over one spot, and the rest of the rotation is filled with forwards that can handle multiple positions like Wilson Chandler (6-8), Danilo Gallinari (6-10), Al Harrington (6-9), and Jonathan Bender (7-0). This roster construction allows D’Antoni to keep the rotation short, and not force him to play someone outside of his comfort zone.

Hill Fails To Impress (& Knick Tidbits)

Knick fans that hoped the 2009 #8 pick would pay immediate dividends are going to be disappointed. Mike D’Antoni said Jordan Hill “got a ways to go” with regards to being NBA ready. A quote like this would be expected if New York grabbed a teenager from Europe like Ricky Rubio or Brandon Jennings. But Jordan Hill is 22, and spent 3 years in Arizona. Shouldn’t he be ready to contribute to the NBA now?

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the Knicks recent power forward draftees. Channing Frye, like Hill, was 22 year old #8 overall pick from Arizona and managed an 18.1 PER in 1500+ minutes his first season. David Lee, taken in the same draft, had a 15.4 PER in 1100+ minutes that same year. The 9th overall pick in 2003, Mike Sweetney, was buried on the IR due to incompetent management. But he still was able to perform on an NBA level with a 17.2 PER his first season. Even Nene Hillario who was traded by the Knicks on draft day put up a PER of 15.4 in 2200+ minutes as a 20 year old rookie for Denver.

Hill’s defenders say he started playing basketball late, and that he’s still learning the game. But 2010 is a win now year, with the Knicks not owning their own pick in the upcoming draft. And Walsh didn’t really seem interested in spending money this summer to improve his team, even on his own players. The only trade they made this summer was for a backup center in Darko Milicic. So with no other avenues to improve the team now why would the Knicks take a player who was a project? Surely there was someone that was more ready to contribute this season (Blair seems the part, and Lawson had a nice preseason). Perhaps Walsh didn’t mind taking someone unpolished, but then he should have aimed for someone that was younger or had a bigger upside.

It sounds rough to be critical of a rookie before the season even starts. I can understand Hill not making the rotation, especially with the veterans ahead of him. But I would have liked to hear the coaching staff speak more positively of him. Maybe something along the lines of “he’s good, but he’s going to have to wait his turn.” Perhaps a better showing in either summer league or the preseason would allow me to look past his current state. I’m sure Hill will get some minutes at some point this year, and I can only hope that he can get some positive reviews for his on the court play.

Other News:

  • You can throw away any chance of Eddy Curry getting into the rotation early in the season to increase his trade value. Curry talked about his offseason conditioning publicly on Twitter, then hurt his foot in the first practice. Although it was initially thought that the injury wasn’t serious and he’d be back quickly, Eddy didn’t play in a single preseason game. The team has told Curry to not come back until he reaches a certain weight, implying that his summer regimen wasn’t as advertised. Curry threw away his 2009 season, and so far he’s on pace to do the same in 2010.
  • Not only are Eddy Curry and Jordan Hill out of the rotation, but it seems that Larry Hughes didn’t make the cut either. Hughes probably didn’t expect this to occur (he started 57 of 68 games in 2008, and 20 of 55 last year), and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds. Although the Knicks could afford to let someone like Stephon Marbury hang in the wind (especially considering Marbury’s actions after the team let him go), the front office and coaching staff could lose serious face if this situation gets that ugly.

    From a simple perspective it seems that Hughes was beaten out by Toney Douglas (and perhaps Danilo Gallinari) who are likely to eat the bulk of his minutes along with Nate Robinson. But it’s more likely that this is just coach D’Antoni going with his youngsters.

  • Looks like the Knicks have a new end of bench guy, for now. Marcus Landry replaces Joe Crawford (and Chris Hunter) as the Knicks rotate in a new 12th man yet again. Sorry if I’m indifferent on this signing, but New York seems to grab these guys and tend to never use them in a meaningful way. The best analogy I can come up with it my 2 year old who’ll snatch a toy the minute another child becomes interested in it, not really play with it, and then casually discard it when the next shiny thing comes along.