Knicks 2010 Season Preview Part 2

[In case you missed it, Part I is here.]

Larry Hughes SG

What the Numbers Say
Through the first 4 preseason games, Larry is 1 fer 20. Yipes.

What the Team Says
“Larry Hughes is a guy that can score points and create his own shot. And I think that’s also very good in Mike’s system.” – Donnie Walsh (after the trade deadline deal that netted Hughes for Tim Thomas.)

What the Player Says
“I’m a proven scorer in this league, so it’s not a problem for me,” Hughes said after the Knicks held an open practice for fans at Fordham University yesterday. “It’s the preseason. I’m not too concerned.”

What My Gut Says
HeyLarryHughesPleaseStopTakingSoManyBadShots.com really just about sums it up. Alas, I fear good old Larry has the potential to be this year’s Marbury. No, I don’t mean he’s going to eat Vaseline, it’s just that he has a history of pitching a fit when presented with less playing time than he believes he merits. Nor does he seem to have a firm grasp on what his own abilities are. Proven scorer, my fanny.

Wilson Chandler – SG (in name only)/SF

What the Numbers Say
I can’t parse the stats for the life of me, but Wilson Chandler pops up all over the place in Dave Berri’s “Overrated players of 08-09” list.

What the Team Says
“He’s a great kid that works hard and I really think he has a chance,” D’Antoni said. “That will depend on him and the work that he puts in in the summertime, and he thinks he’s going to do it. I hope he does.”

What the Player Says
“Shake ’em up, shake ’em up, shake ’em up, shake ’em. Roll ’em in a circle of fellas and watch me break ’em” (a tweet in response to Nate Rob’s tweet) Apparently they like tweeting Ice Cube lyrics to one another. Good times.

What My Gut Says
For some reason, in spite of his rim-rattling dunks and blocks that send the rock into the (very expensive) seats, Ill Will fails to make much of an impression on me. Perhaps it’s because he has fewer facial expressions, succeed or fail, than Paris Hilton. He’s a nice two-way SF who if he develops a more consistent jumper and solid handle could be Shawn Marion-lite. A quality guy to have and could certainly be a part of the rotation on a contender, I’d still have dealt him for the 5th pick/Ricky Rubio in a NY minute (assuming that it was even remotely possible).

Danilo Gallinari SF

What the Numbers Say
Danilo Gallinari (2009, Age 20) .448 FG, .444 3FG, .963 FT, 4.8 reb/36, 14.9 pts/36
Dirk Nowitzki (1999, Age 20 ) .405 FG, .205 3FG, .773 FT, 6.1 reb/36, 14.9 pts/36
(Full player comparison at Basketball-Reference.com)

What the Team Says
“He’s the best shooter I’ve ever seen” — Mike D’Antoni

What the Player Says
“Wake up at 9.02 (because I do not like alarms perfect!) … Breakfast with milk and Nesquick … accompanied with biscuits or cornflakes in the morning … I need a lot of carbohydrates! Then long session in the bathroom to get ready, get dressed, I put the lenses, a bit of hair gel and so ready to go to training.” — Il Gallo

What My Gut Says
I amo Il Gallo! So, ciò sembra un po’gaio, ma è il suo soprannome. Che sono intendendo fare? One of the things that’s actually disappointed me in Danilo’s development is that his English has really improved. As a result, he sounds a lot less like Roberto Benigni/Chico Marx. It’s too bad. I was really looking forward with the post-game interview with Jill “Gimme A Minute” Martin where he screeched, “I want to make love to the firmament!” That said, I think he puts up Nowitzki-like #’s in year two (15 ppg, 6 rpg)

And even though he hasn’t officially made the team yet, I have to say that I‘m seriously pulling for Marcus Landry. Maybe it’s because he’s making the transition from undersized college center to SG/SF and the last player I can think of who pulled this off successfully was Earl Monroe, who played the pivot/with his back to the basket at Winston-Salem in the 60’s.

Marbury Agonistes

I feel the crushing need to say something in this, the quietest off-season in eons, about our former prodigal son, Starbury, especially now that he’s tweeted his retirement. (of sorts)…

For those who might have missed it, back in July, our man in Coney Island first decided to broadcast himself live on Ustream for 24 consecutive hours. Here’s a partial transcript: http://nbamusings.com/marbury-24hr-transcript/

I found myself checking in from time to time over the course of that day. And honestly, it was unfathomably compelling. He argued with the cable guy. He traded barbs with fans commenting. At one point he said, “Me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me!” for what seemed like five minutes. He danced. He gave us a tour of his summer home. The “show” just followed a famous person while he had what appeared to be an uneventful Sunday at home, babbling to himself (and the thousand or so folks watching). Granted, what he said did have that particularly Steph-brand of arrogance and weirdness.

So why couldn’t I stop watching?

It wasn’t that I wanted to “catch” him doing something kaboobernuts. Though to some, dancing to “Barbie Girl” and getting a massage from his bro was crazy and Jeff Stryker-esque. I won’t even begin to delve into the social/racial/sexual politics that come full flower (pun intended) with this one. For those inclined, Kevin Arnovitz does a swell job of parsing through the homophobic nonsense and Haywood’s subsequent non-apology. (On a personal note, now I’m even gladder that Etan Thomas whupped Haywood’s ass back in the day)

Starbury’s most common declaration throughout the course of the ‘show’ was some bellowed, top-of-his-lungs variation on: “They can’t put me in a box!” The smack-you-in-the-face irony for those watching is that Marbs was trapped in that rectangular box on our desk (the computer). Plus, he didn’t leave his home – trapped again in what appeared to be a very expensive well-furnished box somewhere in the Hollywood Hills.

Ostensibly, what I assume Stephon meant was that this “unfiltered” broadcast couldn’t be edited to frame the perception of him as a person (as I assume he thought was the case with his “best PG in the NBA” comment or the infamous Bruce Beck interview). Here he’d be free to present his “true” self. The general consensus from the blogosphere was  – “See! Steph is bipolar/crazy/on drugs (the latter being semi-proven when Steph thought it might be a swell idea to tape himself hotboxiing it in an SUV: http://www.tmz.com/2009/08/14/marbury-gets-blunt-i-smoke-marijuana). As utterly foolish as that may have been from a self-marketing perspective, it’s really not a story or particularly newsworthy at all.

I can only imagine that Marbs’ thought process was: “This is the real me. I’m showing the people something real. THEY CAN’T PUT ME IN A BOX!!!!” Which I get. If you’ve ever come to see one of my plays (shameless plug: Next show in Nov!), you’ll know that the schism between the interior self (isolated, unknowable) and the public image (always contrived, false) is one of my pet memes. I think Marbs is consumed by this as well. More so than your humble correspondent because his public persona is far more public than mine. And his persona is unfortunately determined by a-holes in the sporting press who’ve decided he’s bipolar/crazy/on drugs/etc. I get the Box thing. He is in a box. It must be maddening – the notion that any private self is both non-existent and constantly available for consumption and scrutiny. The brutal irony is that this attempt to define his own existence and identity has only resulted in even more people deciding who he is.

So that’s why I couldn’t stop watching. It was heartbreaking (not in the “he’s screwing himself out of ever playing in the NBA sense). He was fighting for his very existence, his very soul.

But for those who do think Stephon has lost it, what can one actually learn from livestreams and 140-character snippets? Do I feel like I know more about N8 because he was tweeting whilst getting pulled over by the Po-Po’s? It’s just another mediated exchange – not actual human interaction (although far more compelling than the usual slew of media clichés one gets from athletes – see the seminal “Bull Durham” scene where Costner schools Nuke LaLoosh in the art of the meaningless cliché — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeVca9MwDX8 )

At the time, I just thought the scene was funny. But it makes loads more sense now. I don’t think one wants to see the athletes we spend hours pondering as ‘real’ people sharing many of our hopes, dreams, and fears. If they’re real, they can’t be heroes, gods, or legends. They’re just schmucks like the rest of us with horrible, bone-crushing, human failings and weaknesses. I’m certainly not plunking down $300 for a ticket to watch actual people with flaws try to do something inherently inane (put a leather ball in a steel ring whilst wearing shiny underwear).

We abide in our fictions…

2009 Report Card: Donnie Walsh

It was with fanfare befitting a peaceful transfer of power from despotism to enlightenment that Donnie Walsh inherited Isiah Thomas’ job as New York Knicks president of basketball operations in the spring of 2008.  But as with so many European monarchs, African generals, and Spinal Tap drummers before him, the excitement surrounding Walsh’s arrival soon gave way, at least in part, to the grim realization that the pitfalls of previous years had not all departed with his predecessor.  An impossible cap situation, a meddling owner, and a frequently unmotivated core of players were all holdovers from the Isiah era which Walsh has been forced to address, with varying degrees of success.

Walsh’s first Knicks team finished with a record of 32-50, worse than three of the five Knicks squads that Isiah oversaw.  But Walsh’s job was never about 2009 and, unlike Isiah, he immediately proved willing to accept that short term failure was a necessary and acceptable side effect of true progress.  To this end, it is undeniable that the poker-faced Bronx native has moved a dysfunctional franchise in the right direction, but his advances have not come without missteps.  That these mistakes have come with little popular backlash is cause for gratitude to Isiah – critics of Walsh would be far more vocal had his hiring not come on the heels of such unmitigated failure.

If Walsh’s patience and indecipherability are his greatest qualities in negotiation, they may also be his best assets in avoiding the kind of criticism that is typicaly heaped upon New York pro sports executives by media and fans.  His stern demeanor and unshakable calm suggest to observers, even at moments of seeming misjudgment, that he knows more about the situation than they do and so deserves their trust.  A move-by-move analysis of Walsh’s Knicks tenure reveals a well-reasoned overall plan that has been tarnished by some truly baffling decisions.  With the belief that the moves a general manager doesn’t make are as important as the moves he does make, I offer this chronological assessment of Walsh’s first season-plus on the job:

May 10, 2008: In his first, and thus far best, major move as Knicks president, Walsh signed Phoenix Suns coach Mike D’Antoni to a 4-year, $24 million contract.  D’Antoni’s hiring has resonated with fans (seen in the sense of pride that came with a prized coaching commodity choosing the Knicks over a handful of other suitors, as well as the entertaining brand of basketball to which they are treated each night), Knicks players (seen in the career years put up by David Lee, Al Harrington, Nate Robinson, Wilson Chandler, and, for the first 50 games, Chris Duhon), and players around the league (D’Antoni’s relationship with soon-to-be-max-contract-signers LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Kobe Bryant may prove to be his most important asset as the Knicks’ coach).

Grade: A, and if LeBron’s affection for D’Antoni leads him to New York, it becomes an A-plus.

Draft Night, 2008: With the sixth pick, Walsh chose Danilo Gallinari, whose struggles with back trouble and flashes of promise have both been well-chronicled on this and other sites.  While the jury remains out on Gallo, we have a better idea about some of the guys Walsh could have taken.  Of the lottery picks remaining on the board at #6, Eric Gordon (chosen 7th, 14.98 rookie PER), Brook Lopez (chosen 10th, 17.94 rookie PER), and Anthony Randolph (chosen 14th, 16.94 rookie PER and an absolute monster of a summer league) have looked the most promising thus far.

However, simply lining Gallo up against these three doesn’t quite create a proper lens for evaluating Walsh’s choice.  Looking back through Chad Ford’s archives reminds us that Gordon and Joe Alexander (chosen  8th, 10.19 rookie PER) were the two most likely Knicks picks had they passed on Gallinari, and the early returns suggest that Walsh may have dodged a bullet by passing on Alexander’s unique, but extremely raw, skill set.

Grade: C-plus.  We all love Gallo and it’s tempting to give Walsh an incomplete here.  It’s also probably unfair to criticize Walsh for passing on Lopez and Randolph, as the former was universally regarded as low on upside and the latter as a potential bust.  Still, it’s impossible to ignore how well Gordon, Randolph, and Lopez would all fit into D’Antoni’s system, and one would be hard pressed to find a non-Knicks fan who would put an unproven 21-year-old who already has back problems on the same level as any of these three.  I think there are decent odds Gallinari will prove this grade wrong but at the moment this looks like an OK, but not great, pick.

July 4, 2008: Walsh signed former Bulls PG Chris Duhon to a 2 year contract at the full mid-level ($12 million).  The price tag here looks high now, given the lower salaries being handed out this offseason and the incredibly frustrating second half to Duhon’s 2008-09 season.  Still, the Knicks have never minded paying out  luxury tax dollars and Walsh brought in a point guard who generally stays out of his own way and makes his teammates better on the offensive end.  If Duhon’s ability to create easy baskets can turn Curry into a tradable commodity this season (it’s a long shot, but hey, a guy can hope), it becomes a great signing.  Until then, Duhon is a player who doesn’t set his team back on the court, creates reps for a young core in need of development, and doesn’t set the franchise back in its hunt for prime talent in 2010.  Pretty good move for the mid-level in a lackluster free agent summer.

Grade: B.

November 21, 2008: Walsh put on his Kevin Pritchard hat for a day and swung two trades that cleared up $27 million in 2010 cap room.  In sending Zach Randolph to the Clippers and Jamal Crawford to the Warriors in exchange for a useful forward in Al Harrington, a useless forward in Tim Thomas, and a soon-to-retire combo guard in Cuttino Mobley, Walsh dismantled the slim playoff hopes of what was then an above-.500 team.  More importantly, however, he overhauled the team’s long term cap position, picked up a trade chip in Mobley’s tax-free contract, and rid the team of two shoot-first players who were almost certainly stunting the development of their younger, more promising counterparts.   A complete no-brainer.

Grade: A-minus.  It’s a move any good GM would have made if it was available but, what can I say, it’s a good career move to succeed Isiah.

February 19, 2009: An unstoppable force (the Bulls’ desire to trade Larry Hughes) met an immovable object (Jerome James’ contract) and the unstoppable force won as the Knicks flipped James and Tim Thomas for Hughes.  Largely seen as a garbage for garbage deal, the move was supposed to make the Knicks slightly better in the short run without helping or hurting their long-term cap situation and, mainly, sparing their fans the nightly sight of James smiling and joking around on the end of the bench during 20-point losses.  A mostly useless move in the long run and maybe a net negative, as Hughes took some minute that would likely have gone to Nate and Chandler otherwise.  Hughes also brought back some of the poor shot selection and general grumpiness that had mostly departed with Crawford and Stephon Marbury, respectively.  In the end, the trade’s impact, positive or negative, was minimal and we stopped having to listen to Jerome James jokes.

Grade: C (in a one-credit class with little effect on overall GPA).

Trade Deadline, 2009: The Knicks engaged in a well-chronicled negotiation with the Sacramento Kings, who asked for Nate Robinson and Jared Jeffries in exchange for Kenny Thomas’ soon-to-expire contract.  With the Knicks still loosely in playoff contention, Walsh turned down the offer and chose not to rid himself of the nearly $7 million committed to Jeffries in 2010.  A puzzling, disturbingly Isiah-esque move whose questionability has been compounded by the complete disinterest that Walsh has displayed in re-signing Nate this offseason.  If Robinson is truly so expendable, and it’s likely he is, then why endanger the future for only a few months of his services?  This inaction made little sense at the time and makes even less sense now.

Grade: D-minus.

2009 Draft, Lead-up: Another instance in which Walsh seemed to contradict his general mission statement of financial flexibility, as he reportedly rejected an offer of the #5 pick and some expiring contracts for Wilson Chandler, Jeffries, and Hughes.  This rumor always seemed a bit sketchy from the Wizards’ side, but if this offer was truly on the table, I can’t imagine Walsh’s resistance to it.  Trading Jeffries is a desirable goal, Hughes has no long-term value, and Chandler, while a promising young player, is more likely than not to become an effective wing who is generally indistinguishable from any number of other small forwards in the league.  The negligible , if even existent, talent drop off from Chandler to the #5 pick in the draft (which turned out to be Ricky Rubio, though no one would have guessed it at the time) seemed a small price to pay for the disposal of a considerable financial obstacle.

Grade: D.  It’s worth noting that a few different versions of this trade were bouncing around during draft week, some of which would have been less of a windfall for the Knicks.  None of them, however, seemed particularly logical to reject as the Wizards displayed genuine interest in both Jeffries and Hughes.

Draft Night, 2009: Walsh played the hand he was dealt at #8, picking Jordan Hill after watching Rubio and Stephen Curry disappear in rapid succession.  An uninspiring, but far from disastrous, summer league performance has left Hill as a general mystery to Knicks fans at this point, but he’s big and athletic and he got enough numbers in college (although his FG% leaves something to be desired, considering his layup-and-dunk-heavy shot selection) to suggest that he’ll be a useful role player at the worst.  Walsh’s bigger coup on draft night was the effective purchase of Toney Douglas’s draft rights from the Lakers, just the kind of low-risk, solid-upside maneuver that the Knicks never seem to make.  If Douglas develops into a serviceable back-up point guard with a jump shot and an above average defensive skill set, which seems likely, this pick is a success.

In a final draft night move, Walsh acquired Darko Milicic from the Grizzlies by sending Quentin Richardson off on the first leg of his summer-long tour of NBA mediocrity.  Another low-risk move that might suit D’Antoni’s system well.  Given what he had to work with, a sound if unspectacular draft night for Walsh.

Grade: B-plus for draft night in a vacuum.  However, if you consider that Walsh could have had Rubio or Curry at five had he made the Wizards trade, it’s a C-minus.

Free Agency, 2009: I don’t know.  Do you?  I think Walsh was right not to pay for Iverson.  I would have loved a year or two of Nash at the mid-level, but I get the feeling that was never as close to a reality as we all were hoping.

If Walsh wins his ongoing staring contest with Ramon Sessions (17.65 PER, 23 years old) and signs him for two years at a low 2010 cap number, it will be a way better long-term move than signing Jason Kidd (16.95 PER, 36 years old) would have been, as the Knicks will acquire a young, affordable point guard who can defer to his teammates and can wait until after the Knicks make their big free agent splash to receive his long-term payout.

Additionally, Walsh has done well not to give in to unrealistic demands by either Lee or Robinson in a depressed market, but until their situations are resolved (ideally with Nate walking or taking a cheap one-year deal and Lee staying on for something near the mid-level), it’s hard to get a read on Walsh’s current plan or his level of confidence in the LeBron/Wade/Bosh sweepstakes next offseason.

Grade: Incomplete.

All told, Walsh’s tenure got off to a promising start but has suffered from several moments of seeming hesitance to take the final plunge and commit to any one comprehensive strategy.  Walsh has clearly leaned toward building for the future at the expense of the present, which is a welcome change from the Isiah era, but his unwillingness to part with anyone of value as a pot-sweetener in the unloading of bad contracts has stunted the Knicks progress toward an ideal 2010 cap situation.  As it stands, the team has a top-flight coach and more young talent and long-term financial flexibility than anyone could have realistically expected 16 months ago.  But one worries that Walsh has hedged his bets a bit too much and will fall short of a free agent jackpot next summer.

Overall Grade: B

2009 Report Card: Danilo Gallinari

Gallinari’s first year in America was a comedy of errors. When the player New York reportedly coveted (Russell Westbrook) went one pick earlier, Gallinari was seemingly taken as Plan B. In his first preseason game Gallinari faced a 300+ lb behemoth in Robert “Tractor” Traylor, and promptly hurt his back. The youngster sat out the rest of preseason, but was ready when the season started. In the Knicks first game, D’Antoni played Gallo over Marbury prompting fans to inexplicably cheer for Stephon. After his second game, Gallinari’s back prevented him from playing until mid-January. The rookie played spot minutes for 2 months before calling it a season.

I think it’s safe to say that Gallo’s rookie season is one he, the team, Knick fans, and perhaps all of Italy are hoping to forget. On the court the youngster appeared robotic at times, no doubt a result of his back injury. He didn’t have a full range of motion, almost as if the uniform guy put way too much starch in his jersey. Judging a 20 year old from 400 minutes isn’t very reliable but factor in a bad back, and it’s hard to separate Gallo’s attributes from his limitations due to injury. For instance his rebounding was extremely poor for a 6-10 forward, cleaning the glass at about the same rate (4.8 reb/36) as Nate Robinson (4.7 reb/36). He only blocked 4 shots all year (0.3 blk/36). But until he’s healthy for some serious minutes, we won’t know if these are areas that he needs to work on or if his back limited his production.

What we do know is that the kid can shoot, as Gallinari hit 44.4% of his threes and 96.3% of his ones. While it’s unlikely that he’ll keep his percentages that high for a full season, it’s likely that he’ll be an above average shooter over the course of his career. Gallo attempted to show his handle on the perimeter to mixed success. He definitely has some skill with the basketball and can go behind the back when needed, but he appears awkward when doing so. Save for his poor block rate, Danilo looked adequate defensively with above average lateral speed to and an eye for the ball (1.2 stl/36).

Using 400 injury-plagued minutes isn’t a good measure of any NBA player. For fun I decided to run my similarity scores for the 10 most comparable players. However due to the small sample size combined with Gallo’s youth, the first player is 2 standard deviations away (Julian Wright), and the second is 3 (C.J. Miles). I wouldn’t read too much into these.

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS% eFG% PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Danilo Gallinari 2009 NYK 13.4 .621 .576 14.9 1.1 4.8 1.3 1.2 0.3 1.3
.199 Julian Wright 2008 NOH 15.4 .581 .562 12.5 1.9 6.6 2.3 1.6 0.7 1.9
.220 C.J. Miles 2008 UTA 14.2 .574 .542 15.5 0.8 4.1 2.8 1.7 0.4 1.4
.241 Thaddeus Young 2009 PHI 15.3 .549 .524 16.0 1.9 5.3 1.2 1.4 0.3 1.6
.259 Mike Miller 2001 ORL 13.2 .541 .523 14.7 1.0 4.9 2.1 0.8 0.3 1.5
.289 Eric Gordon 2009 LAC 14.9 .593 .529 16.8 0.6 2.7 2.9 1.0 0.5 2.2
.296 Nicolas Batum 2009 POR 12.9 .555 .532 10.5 2.1 5.4 1.8 1.2 1.0 1.2
.303 Gerald Green 2006 BOS 13.1 .541 .500 16.1 1.0 3.9 1.7 1.3 0.4 2.1
.326 Rashard Lewis 2000 SEA 16.5 .543 .521 15.4 2.9 7.7 1.6 1.4 0.8 1.8
.345 Daniel Gibson 2007 CLE 9.4 .556 .537 10.1 1.0 3.4 2.5 0.8 0.3 1.6
.368 Adrian Dantley 1977 BUF 18.3 .601 .520 20.0 3.2 7.5 1.8 1.2 0.2  
.401 Mark Olberding 1977 SAS 14.2 .579 .503 15.8 3.0 8.3 2.2 1.1 0.5  

Just to expand things, I ran two queries from Basketball Reference to get some more similar players. The first of players 6-10 or taller who grabbed less than 5 rebounds per 36, and the second of players who hit 44% of their threes while attempting 6.0 or more per 36. The latter produced only 4 other players, the former 49, and surprisingly a lot fit Gallinari’s mold: Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Peja Stojakovic, Brent Barry, Danny Ferry, and Cliff Robinson. Although the Knicks were probably hoping for more out of the #6 pick, it’s not a bad group to be in. Consider that the aforementioned players have been cogs on teams that have all made it to the Finals.

Report Card (5 point scale):
Offense: 4
Defense: 2
Teamwork: 4
Rootability: 5
Performance/Expectations: 2

2009 Report Card: Chris Duhon

When the Knicks signed Chris Duhon for 2 years at $5M per year, more than one analyst accused the team of overpaying in free agency yet again. However looking at Duhon’s production over the year it’s hard to argue with the signing. The former Bull ran the offense (7.0 ast/36), shot efficiently (56.9% ts%), hit nearly 40 percent from downtown (39% 3p%), and played above average defense. Oh and he set the franchise record for assists in a game with 22.

But Duhon’s season wasn’t all positive. He still is a meager scorer (10.9 pts/36) who is limited when driving to the hoop. Occasionally the Knick point guard ventures into the paint, and passes up a wide open look in lieu of delivering the ball to a teammate on the perimeter. And while Duhon and Lee make a great pick & roll tandem, as the season wore on Duhon’s scoring deficiencies allowed other teams to focus on Lee and better defend the strategy. This year, Duhon’s turnovers per minute peaked at 2.8 to/36, mainly due to his scoring woes. Teams looked to stop the pass more when he had the ball.

When looking back on the 2009 season, Duhon will be remembered for transitioning from Stephon Marbury’s noxious hold on the team to D’Antoni’s ball-sharing paced offense. Duhon was the anti-Marbury: quiet, stable, defensively able, inept finishing around the hoop, unselfish with the ball. All in all, Duhon’s effect on the team was a positive one, but his deficiencies make him more suited for a reserve role than a starter playing upwards of 36 minutes. The team has more pressing needs this summer (namely center and shooting guard), but finding their point guard of the future would be a wise investment as well.

Report Card (5 point scale):
Offense: 2
Defense: 4
Teamwork: 5
Rootability: 4
Performance/Expectations: 5

Final Grade: B+

Second Round Thoughts

Looks like we might have two series to watch in the second round. Boston tied the series at 1-1 yesterday on Rondo’s triple double. The undermanned Celtics weren’t thought as title competitors, but they managed to stave off a fiesty Chicago team, and are giving Orlando their money’s worth. On the other side of the coin, you have to wonder what’s going on with the Magic? They made a 41 win Philadelphia team look good giving them a 2-1 lead in the first round. In game two, Dwight Howard shot 5-13 from the field and 2-8 from the charity stripe. Everyone has a bad game in the NBA, but you’d think Howard would eat up the Garnett-less Celtics.

In the West, Houston and Los Angeles are locked in mortal combat. The Rockets upset the Lakers in game one by limiting Kobe to 32 points on 31 shots. In game two, the Lakers fought back literally. In the end of the third quarter Scola committed a hard foul on Odom, and few members of Los Angeles had some harsh words for Scola. (OK it was Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic, probably the two least scary people in all of Los Angeles.) A few seconds later Scola would set a screen on Derek Fisher and get leveled. The replay clearly showed Fisher accelerating into him, like a WWE wrestler complete with the bloody head. Fisher was ejected, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the league held him out of game 3. Meanwhile Artest was ejected for gesturing at Kobe Bryant, and Von Wafer was sent to the locker room for arguing with his own coach. I still say he’s better than Roberson.

Oh and one last note: Stephon Marbury is shooting 30.2% eFG% and is -42 for the playoffs with only two games in the positive side of +/-.

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.