Wallace Signing Shakes Up Central

At their highest level of success the Pistons relied on their defense to carry them, and at the centerpiece of that stalwart defense was center Ben Wallace. Unfortunately for Detroit, Ben Wallace recently agreed to a 4 year deal with divisional rival Chicago. The move struck a serious blow to the Pistons as 4 time defensive players of the year don’t come along that easily. The team attempted to minimize the damage by signing center Nazr Mohammed. The ex-Spur, ex-Knick, ex-Hawk, ex-Sixer will try to replace the rebounding void left by Ben, and add a scoring punch that Wallace never had. However Nazr’s not nearly the defender that Ben is, nor does his scoring make up the difference. Like their name implies, Detroit’s success relied on each Piston firing at an above average level, and without their defensive keystone they aren’t likely to sustain their high level of play.

Last year the Chicago Bulls finished 6th in the NBA on defense so Wallace doesn’t address a big need for them. However it doesn’t mean that the signing won’t make them better. One way Big Ben can help the Bulls is to make them the best defensive team in the league. There were 6 teams within 1 point per 100 possessions defensively of the Bulls (from the #3 Nets to the #8 Clippers). So while the Bulls were above average, there were a lot of teams that were comparable defensively. The difference between the #1 Spurs and #6 Bulls is the same difference between the #6 Bulls and the #17 Warriors. Using the pythagorean formula for expected wins, the Bulls would go from a 43 win team to a 54 win team by becoming an elite defensive team like the Spurs.

Wallace’s addition also allows the Bulls to move their other centers for more scoring punch. Both Tyson Chandler and the newly drafted Tyrus Thomas have the same strengths and weaknesses as Big Ben: strong at defense and rebounding, weak on offense. It doesn’t make sense for the Bulls to keep all 3, and with the dearth of centers around the league they should be able to move one of them with ease. Rumors are already circulating the mill about the Bulls moving Thomas to Minnesota for Garnett, and Chandler being swapped for the usual suspects (PJ Brown, Al Harrington, etc.) If the Bulls can nab a strong post player or an unhappy superstar they might become favorites in a strong Central division.

On the other hand, the biggest winners in the Ben Wallace sweepstakes could be the Cleveland Cavaliers. During the regular season the Cavs finished second in their division behind the Pistons, and Cleveland’s postseason was ended in the second round of the playoffs by Detroit. LeBron James is already playing MVP caliber ball, and if Ilgauskas and Hughes stay healthy for the year (and maybe with a little off-season tweaking) dismantling the Pistons could be just the thing they need to reach the Conference Finals.

Winning or Hope: What Can the Knicks Offer Their Fans?

It is often said that a franchise can sell its fans one of two commodities: Winning or Hope. Having given up on winning, the Knicks redoubled their efforts to peddle hope. Despite being mired in their worst season ever, the powers that be gathered a Willis Reed-sized dollop of chutzpah, and sent letters to season ticket holders outlining their commitment to fielding a competitive team. Signed by both Isaih Thomas and Larry Brown, the message sang a seemingly harmonious rendition of: Tomorrow, tomorrow, the sun will come out tomorrow?

But is there gold at the end of the rainbow? While I realize prognosticating on how the Knicks can improve for next season may be subscribing to the same short-sighted philosophy that drove them into their current quagmire, I believe there are some simple moves that would improve the team without selling the future for the present. Heading into the off-season the Knicks have three holes to shore up ? Perimeter Stopper, Back-up Point Guard, and Interior Defense ? with three resources to do it ? Free Agency, Trades, and the Draft.

I exclude Trades from the analysis, because it takes two to tango, so any proposal is at best a rumor and at worst a fantasy. Also, we will see trades are not necessary to fill these needs. The free-agent market has its own problems as a team can only buy what is being sold, and this year the pickings are particularly slim. The draft is also expected to be marginal, but just because there is no superstar ability, does not mean there is not a density of contributing talent.

When filling the perimeter stopper role, ironically of all the available players, the most qualified athlete was not only traded away from the Knicks, but was stuck on the bench in the first place: Trevor Ariza. No other free agent fits the job description, much less would be available for the mid-level exception. The closest imposter would be the decrepit James Posey, a slowing Bonzi Wells, or the too expensive Caron Butler. So, to fill this need, the Knicks should turn to the draft. Equipped with the projected 21st and 29th picks overall, the drafts of recent years have proven that elite level defensive players are available at these slots: Trevor Ariza (43rd), Tayshaun Prince (23rd), Josh Howard (29th), and Gerald Wallace (25th), Bobby Simmons (41st), while both Ben Wallace and Bruce Bowen were undrafted.

The Knicks other two needs, Back-Up Point Guard and Interior Defense, do not necessitate a trip to the market, but instead a raid of their own cupboards, as they can both be filled in-house. The Knicks already serious roster issues have been further aggravated by mismanagement of their own players. Whether management does not appreciate star talent (Marbury), under-utilize production (Sweetney), bury budding talent (Frye, Lee, Butler, Ariza), or overplay inferior aging veterans (Taylor, M. Rose), the Knicks have run a Stern Business School clinic on how not to handle human resources. I offer these suggestions knowing full well that the chances are slim of the Knicks suddenly turning an about face and proving competent at handling players.

With Marbury and Francis starting in a dual-penetrating backcourt, much like Chris Paul and Speedy Claxton in NOK, the back-up point guard spot should be filled by Jamal Crawford. A team no less successful than the Phoenix Suns demonstrate that when going small and quick, the other team must compensate by substituting out their larger players to keep pace. Playing Crawford twenty minutes a night as a combo guard is a better fit for his skill set of smooth ball-handling and shot creation. Besides, Crawford has demonstrated an affinity for the reserve role this year, enough to merit early season nomination for the Sixth Man Award.

Moreover, consider the production of back-up point guards of many playoff teams and its clear that teams have succeeded with much less production than Crawford offers: Lindsey Hunter, Gary Payton, Jacque Vaughan, and Chucky Atkins, just to name a few.

As for Interior Defense, the answer is addition by subtraction: Replace Curry in the starting line-up with Butler. As an adept rebounder and shot-blocker and a capable if unspectacular offensive player, Butler is certainly worthy of a starting center spot. Pairing him with Channing Frye at power forward would be a strong defensive pairing. Since Curry isn?t a flashy, high-energy guard, it?s often lost that he would be best used as a Sixth Man. His skill set of high per-minute scoring, shot creation, and porous defense, makes him better suited for a reserve role, feasting on the league?s second units and back-up centers. Continuing to start him worsens the high turnover rate and lackadaisical effort that is plateuing his career.

So with the roster?s needs filled through the draft and proper roster management, who should the Knicks focus their mid-level exception on? The answer isn?t obvious, since no player out there can fill a need of theirs, and because, well, the players out there aren?t that good in the first place. I would grab the best available player and pull a Nuggets by trading them to a contender at the trade deadline. Anyone from the following would fit that bill: Lorenzen Wright, Bobby Jackson, Bonzi Wells, Vladimir Radmanovic, or Nazr Mohammed.

The rotation would be thus set: Marbury and Francis, with Crawford as the third guard; Woods, Frye, and Butler, in the frontcourt with Curry and Lee in reserve; then J. Rose coming in as a point-3; Robinson and Draft Picks filling out the end of the bench; and Q-Rich the NBA?s most expensive 12th man. Now, where does this leave room for Malik Rose, Mo Taylor, and Jerome James? It doesn?t. Perhaps Thomas should adapt a New York City tradition of getting rid of old junk: Flea-market anyone? I?d trade any one of those players for a decent armoire on any Sunday afternoon.

Why not trade these albatrosses you ask? Because the only general manager foolish enough to buy a bridge in Brooklyn already works for us.

With these relatively modest moves, the Knicks can employ a very solid rotation. While lacking any All-NBA talent, the roster is also bereft of any open sores, which is more than can be said of many playoff teams. Besides a second consecutive total tank job by their head coach, there is no reason to believe that the talent the Knicks field won?t be able to compete for an Eastern Conference playoff spot in 2006-07, as even our worst enemies admit we are not as bad as our record this season. Tomorrow, indeed, may have a brighter future than one would expect.

Babcock Loses Job

Toronto GM Rob Babcock was fired today, and it’s ironic that his former team is not even in last place in their division. The Knicks are below the Raptors in winning percentage, but somehow the Knicks are actually ahead in the “games behind” column. Unlike the Knicks, the Raptors don’t have the luxury of the league’s biggest payroll. Nor do they have a shoe-in hall of fame coach roaming their sidelines. They don’t have the advantage of being one of the biggest sports market in the US. Toronto has to recruit athletes for a winter sport in one of the colder cities in the league. Hell they don’t even collect the American dollar at the gates. And as of today, they’re still doing better than the Knicks.

Since Toronto has opened up the can of worms on firing GMs, I’d like to broach the topic on whether the Knicks should keep Isiah? Right now he’s put together a dubious roster that even Larry Brown can’t get to win more a third of their games. The only thing worse than Isiah’s judgment on NBA talent might be his understanding of the NBA’s salary cap. Just like the team Isiah has inherited, the Knicks lead the league in salary while remaining south of the .500 mark.

Thomas’ strength is his uncanny ability to spot talent in the draft, but he’s traded the next two Knick first round picks. The traded draft picks mean that Isiah won’t be able to use his greatest trait, but it also means he’s removed his second best trait. Look at the Knicks roster & ask who are the Knicks best assets? Personally I would choose Marbury, Frye, Curry, Crawford, Lee, Davis, and Ariza. All of those players except for Crawford were either drafted by the Knicks or acquired with draft picks. Marbury cost the Knicks their 2004 pick, a future 1st round pick, and the 30th pick in the 2003 draft (Maciej Lampe). Curry and Davis came to New York for the Knicks 2006 first rounder, the option to swap 2007 first rounders, two second rounders, and the 9th overall pick in 2003 (Mike Sweetney). Isiah’s track record sans drafting and using picks as bait has been unimpressive. Of his 8 trades, only 3 didn’t have the Knicks shipping away a draft pick, the inconsequential Weatherspoon/Norris swap, the controversial Nazr to the Spurs, and the ‘decision still pending’ Crawford deal. Free agency hasn’t been kind to Isiah either. Reclamation projects like Baker, Woods, and Butler have yet to bear any fruit. Even when given a little money to spend on free agents Thomas has gaffed with the knee slapping, side splitting (to everyone but Knick fans) 5 year deal to Jerome James.

Let’s stop for a second & think about this more objectively. Imagine we can clone the Knicks’ franchise, with everything remaining the same except they don’t have a GM. You’re the owner of a franchise with some promising young players that has mortgaged a bunch of its future draft picks and has the worst salary cap situation in sports. Would you hire a GM who has been successful in drafting players, trading draft picks, and has shown no ability in being able to reduce the salary cap? If the Bulls can turn it around in 2007 with a pair of first rounders and a load of capspace, the Knicks will only see one mid (Bulls ’07) and one late (Spurs ’06) first round pick so they won’t be able to take advantage of Isiah Thomas’ draft wizardry. Additionally, without those future draft picks, Isiah won’t be able to use his second favorite tactic: dangling picks in front of other teams looking to unload players (Marbury, Curry) that they’ve soured on.

Take a look at Isiah Thomas’ track record. Outside of the draft, Isiah’s acquisitions have been risky gambles. Some have turned out reasonably well (Nazr Mohammed, Jamal Crawford) while others have gone from harmless wastes of time (Vin Baker, Tim Thomas, Qyntel Woods) to the downright bad (Jerome James, Quentin Richardson, Malik Rose, Penny Hardaway). The rest are muddled with cap and trade implications (Eddy Curry, Stephon Marbury) that make it hard to judge whether or not they were worth it. In baseball terms Isiah Thomas might be a Dave Kingman, Rob Deer, or Pete Incaviglia. Someone that hits for a low average, but is always swinging for the fences. Continuing the metaphor, the Knicks have a runner on third with two outs in the ninth inning of a tie game. In this situation, Isiah Thomas is not the man you want at the plate. I’d rather have a slap hitter that can get that run home, than the guy who is going to strike out trying to put two on the scoreboard. Translating back to basketball, today’s New York Knicks need a guy that can dump some salary and grab some useful guys that can fill the rotation. As far as I’m concerned, Isiah Thomas has shown he’s not that guy.

Losing <> Rebuilding

People say this is a rebuilding year, we are suppose to lose.

This is rebuilding. It just doesn’t seem like it because this should have been Scott Layden’s responsibility.

this team is four years behind schedule thanks to Scott Layden’s refusal to do anything that resembled a rebuilding process. What we are seeing now is that rebuilding process, more or less, and you can expect to see this for the next two or three years because that’s at least how long it takes to turn things around.

The fans say the Knicks are rebuilding. The press says the team is rebuilding. Even the Knicks front office has admitted as much. But I’m not one who just accepts conventional wisdom. So I ask “should the label ‘rebuilding’ be applied to the Knicks?” I could call myself “Dick Cheney” or “Chancellor of the Klingon Empire,” but if my actions don’t match that of an evil tyrant, then those descriptions are rejected. However if I choose to call myself “KnickerBlogger” and perform duties that others would expect from a “KnickerBlogger”, then the term is accurate.

So what does “rebuilding” mean when applied to a sports team? Rebuilding teams are concerned with winning in the future, while their opposite, competing teams, are concerned with winning now. Competing teams usually trade away their draft picks for players that can help them immediately. For example last year the Spurs traded away a pair of first round picks in order to acquire Nazr Mohammed for their championship run. One characteristic of a rebuilding franchise is a team that stockpiles draft picks or tries to improve on the quality of their picks.

Although there are other elements of rebuilding, such as freeing cap space or trading for players, teams still need the draft to improve themselves. Signing Steve Nash or trading for Shaq would not have made their respective teams championship caliber had those teams not drafted All Stars like Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, and Dwayne Wade. Building a strong team without the draft is possible, but it’s not a legitimate strategy. For instance, to repeat the Pistons success another team would have to unearth gems like Ben Wallace and Chauncy Billups. Digging through the league’s unwanted bin looking for All Stars is not a high percentage move.

So one way to judge whether the term rebuilding can be applied to Isiah Thomas’ Knicks, is by looking at each trade regarding draft picks and see if it falls under the “win now” or “win later” category.

Thomas’ first major move was to trade the Knicks 2004 1st round pick, and a conditional future 1st round pick to the Phoenix Suns in the Stephon Marbury deal. While Marbury is young enough to be considered “win later”, the picks moved, the contracts taken on, and the young talent traded away pushes this trade into the “win now” pile.

Isiah’s second draft pick transaction was the Keith Van Horn trade. In this deal he sent a 2nd rounder in order to get Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed. A year later the Knicks would parlay Nazr Mohammed into a pair of first round picks, clearly a rebuilding move. So let’s combine these two moves into one and add it to the “win later” pile. On the same day Nazr was shipped out of New York, they sent a 2nd round pick to acquire Maurice Taylor. Isiah Thomas might be the first GM in history to have a “rebuild the franchise” trade and a “compete right now” trade on the same day.

Over the summer, New York made two deals involving their draft picks. A draft day deal had the Knicks moving up from the 54th pick to the 21st pick (Nate Robinson) losing only veteran Kurt Thomas. Clearly a “win later” move. A few weeks after, the Knicks traded for Eddy Curry. Although Curry’s status as a former 4th overall pick, might give the impression of a rebuilding move, the surrounding elements clearly mark it as a “win now” deal. The Knicks gave up a slew of picks, including next year’s #1, the option for the Bulls to swap #1 picks the year after, and two 2nd round picks (2007 & 2009).

If you are scoring at home, Isiah’s Knicks have made 3 “win now” deals, and 2 “win later” deals. Optimists might say that the Marbury and Curry deals were “win later” proposals swinging it 4-1 in favor of rebuilding moves. However let’s look at how Isiah Thomas has treated New York’s draft picks year by year to get an overall picture:

2003: The 2003 draft was handled by Layden, but no players drafted remain due to Isiah’s trades.
2004: Traded away 1st round pick (#16).
2005: Traded away their 2nd round pick. Traded for a late 1st round pick (#30 – David Lee). Traded for a second round pick (#54), then traded that pick to move up to a mid 1st (#21 Nate Robinson).
2006: Traded away their 1st round pick (based on Knicks record – currently projected to be a lottery pick). Traded away their second round pick. Traded for 1st round pick (Spurs – projected to be a late pick).
2007: Gave the Bulls an option to swap 1st round picks. Traded away their 2nd round pick.
2008+: The Knicks have traded away a future 1st round pick that has to be used before 2010. They also have traded their 2009 2nd round pick.

In the 8 years between 2003 and 2010, the Knicks have essentially traded their own first round pick at least 4 times (5 if you include the 2007 Bulls’ swap). They’ve traded their own second round pick 5 times. While they have acquired 1st rounders as well, none will be impact players. In the next three years it’s likely that the Knicks will not have any of their first round picks, and only 1 of their second round picks. Simply put, the Knicks have taken the free draft picks given to them by the league and downgraded them or flat out gave them away at nearly every turn.

Another characteristic of a rebuilding team is a losing record, and right now the Knicks are losing at an alarming rate. However just because a team can’t buy a win doesn’t necessarily mean it’s rebuilding. To use the dreaded “r” word, the team should be actively trying to win in the future. For example the 1997 Spurs won only 20 games, but they weren’t rebuilding. San Antonio lost David Robinson for the year, and they knew they would be getting him back the next season. They didn’t trade Avery Johnson or Vinnie Del Negro for a couple of picks, despite the pair being on the wrong side of thirty. From the evidence above, the Knicks aren’t rebuilding either. They’re just doing a really bad job of “winning now.”


Specials thanks to the below two web sites for providing the information used in this article.

http://www.hoopshype.com/general_managers/isiah_thomas.htm
http://www5.realgm.com/src_future_draftpicks.php

Knicks 2006 Preview Part I

Center: This is one area that the Knicks have certainly upgraded. While Nazr Mohammed filled the position reasonably well last year, his departure left a 6’10 foot void in the middle of Knicks’ lineup. Herb Williams did the best he could with a rotation of Mike Sweetney, Kurt Thomas, Malik Rose, Maurice Taylor, and any fan 6’7 or taller willing to don a uniform for a few minutes.

This year Knick fans should notice an instant transformation at the 5. When the Knicks acquired Curry, the press was quick to compare him to Patrick Ewing, but I was reminded of another young Knick center. Marcus Camby arrived in New York in a controversial summer deal. Both players were former high lottery picks, with health issues, whose previous teams had soured on them, and were brought over in controversial summer trades. If Gothamites are looking for a bright comparison, it would be fantastic if Curry’s could break out for New York like Camby did years ago.

There is one problem with comparing Curry to either Ewing or Camby. Both of the former Knick centers excelled at rebounding & defense. In the 2006 Basketball Forecast, John Hollinger said that Curry was among the 5 worst rebounding centers in the league, meanwhile Dan Rosenbaum had him ranked as the 5th worst defensive center in the league. Watching him during the preseason, Curry’s defense appears as poor as advertised. His ‘D’ suffers from poor footwork, being out of shape, and a general indifference. The Knicks young center is a beast when he has the ball, but shies away from contact at all other times. The blocked shots that I recall from preseason were from the weak side, and unfortunately Curry doesn’t have Camby’s athleticism to be a force in that manner.

Eddy is a fantastic scorer who does so at a very high rate. Big men that shoot well usually get a lot of easy buckets from tip-ins, but Curry was a pitiful 89th in offensive rebounds per minute last year. This just means that Curry’s skills as a scorer are even more impressive than his 54% might indicate. Luckily 82games.com tracks such things, and Curry only scored 2% of the time on “tips”. In comparison Nazr Mohammed rebounding tips comprised 7% of his scores, and Mike Sweetney tipped the ball in 4% of the time. Kurt Thomas matched Curry’s 2%, which is a bad sign since the pick and roll specialist Thomas only ventured into the paint when he was lost.

Eddy’s size presents problems for opponents trying to defend him. Defenders that that allow him to get too deep in the paint are likely to fall victim to one of his variety of post moves. Fronting Curry isn’t a better proposition, as his soft hands allow him to handle the lob and he can finish the alleyoop as well as any big man in the league. Eddy Curry’s addition means that the Knicks have a legitimate second scoring threat next to Marbury, which should improve New York’s offense tremendously.

Before acquiring Curry, the Knicks signed Jerome James to help bolster the middle. Like Curry, and unlike any of the Knicks centers last year, James’ size is more than adequate for the position. Jerome will be able to protect the rim, and will provide a bit of muscle as his 8.4 fouls per 40 minutes will attest to. Unfortunately, James also shares Curry’s lack of rebounding and offseason conditioning.

The Knicks also have a pair of young players that should be able to fill in at center for a few minutes a game. The number 8 pick in this year’s draft, Channing Frye, and undrafted CBA prospect Jackie Butler have gotten good reviews from Larry Brown. Of the two, Butler is more likely to see time at the 5 for two reasons. The first is that Frye’s slender build will make him more suitable for power forward his first year. The second is despite his inexperience, Butler is the Knicks’ best rebounder. Unfortunately like most young players, Jackie finds himself committing mental mistakes. In one summer league game, Butler had 3 whistles on him in what seemed like a 5 minute stretch. If he wants to earn playing time, he’ll have to cut back on the gaffs.

Power Forward: In recent history, the Knicks have had a glut of power forwards. This year seems to be no exception. Less than a month ago I asked Knick fans “By January 1st, who is the Knicks’ starting PF?” The most popular choice was Malik Rose, which was my answer as well. I chose Rose due to the Knicks lack of defenders, but after watching a few preseason games, I’m going to switch to Antonio Davis.

Malik Rose is an intelligent player who understands the concept of team defense. Rose is rarely lost in a defensive rotation and has a sneaky array of moves to thwart opposing players. However he is staring down the wrong side of 30, and won’t be able to compensate for his lack of size with physical ability anymore. Davis’ height has allowed him to age more gracefully than Rose. Despite nearing the end of his career, Davis’ rebounding and defense is still at an acceptable level. Although Rose was never a big shot blocker, his per minute rate is half of what it was just a year ago, and less than a third of what it was at its peak. Malik’s rebounding dipped noticeably as well, grabbing only 7.4 boards per 40 minutes for the Knicks.

If rebounding and defense will keep Davis as the starter, then it’ll be the same thing that will keep Maurice Taylor off the court. Taylor will have the role of scoring big man off the bench, and he’ll be limited to 15 or 20 minutes a game, depending on how often the Knicks are behind. Joining Taylor on the bench will be the rookies, Channing Frye and David Lee. Although Frye was taken much earlier in the draft, Lee has been the more impressive of the two. A natural lefty, Lee has become ambidextrous and is a handful (punny!) for defenders when he’s in the post. He can score with either hand, and seems to have a wide array of moves in the paint. Lee was thought of as a good rebounder in college, and hopefully that skill will transfer over to the NBA.

I’m still not sure what to expect out of Frye. His frame resembles that of Marcus Camby, but he lacks Camby’s high flying theatrics. On the other hand Frye has a nice touch from the outside and should make a fine partner for Marbury on the pick & roll. With the depth at power forward and Brown’s predisposition towards rookies it’s hard to tell exactly who will see playing time.

Point Guard: I bet you thought I was going to talk about the Knicks’ small forwards, but the only other position I’m sure about is the point guard spot. Despite reports of a Brown enforced Iversonian-esque move to shooting guard, Stephon Marbury will run the point for the Knicks. The reason is simple, neither Crawford nor rookie Nate Robinson are able to run the point for an extended period of time. Crawford still suffers from poor shot selection, and while the NBA doesn’t keep it as an official stat, I would bet that he led the Knicks in airballs from off balanced jumpers this preseason. The Knicks will rely on Jamal to run the point for a few minutes a game, but leaving the ball in his hands for too long is like putting a gun in Charlton Heston’s hands at an NRA rally. The pressure to shoot becomes unbearable.

Meanwhile Robinson is still learning what he can do at this level. Ironically his rebounding has remained impressive as he tied for the Knicks lead in total rebounds. This should be taken with a grain of salt considering he was also second in total minutes and the Knicks don’t have a lot of good rebounders. Nate’s biggest weakness has been his passing, which shouldn’t be a surprise because he’s more of a shooting guard that needs the ball in his hands than a point guard. He throws too many lazy college passes which end up as NBA turnovers. The Knicks diminutive guard is best suited at going to the hoop with reckless abandon, and using his blazing speed to convert steals into easy buckets. It will be those attributes that keep him Brown’s rotation.


Tune in tomorrow for Part II. For optimists I will have a best case scenario for the 2006 Knicks. For pessimists, there will be a worst case in hell prediction. For small forwards & shooting guards I’ll break down those positions as well.

Isiah Might Serve Up Another Gem In Butler

Last March I wrote an article titled Zeke?s Eye For The Draftee Guy which praised the Knicks GM on his ability to find talent in the draft. At the time it was based on his his only selection in New York where he stole Trevor Ariza in the second round, combined with his stellar record in Toronto where he drafted Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, and Tracy McGrady. Since then he’s had three more picks with the Knicks. While the final verdict is still out on these rookies, they have been well received so far.

A few days before writing that article, Isiah Thomas had picked up two CBA players to fill out the Knicks roster. Again, I had an opinion to share about it.

Of the two, Butler is more likely to be a CBA success story ala John Starks or Anthony Mason… To think either of them is going to be part of the Knicks future in 2007 would be optimistic. However it?s the perfect type of low risk/high reward move where a GM can?t lose, but can win if he gets a serviceable player out of the deal.

Butler’s stats in the CBA showed that he excelled at scoring, rebounding, and blocking shots. After he signed with New York, he played sparingly in the NBA regular season seeing only 5 minutes of garbage time. So far this preseason, Butler has put up some interesting numbers. He’s averaged 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks per 40 minutes. Those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Butler has only appeared in 5 games, he’s barely averaged 14 minutes a game, and preseason games don’t have the same level of competition as the regular season. But by combining his stats from preseason, the summer league and the CBA, a pattern emerges.

LEAGUE       OREB/40           TREB/40           BLK/40           PTS/40
'06 PRE       3.8              12.1              3.3              17.0
'05 SUM       4.0              11.8              1.6              11.8
'05 CBA       4.2              12.4              1.7              20.8

Although competition level and the minutes played have varied, Butler has been remarkably consistent in regards to his rebounding. He’s averaged close to 12 rebounds per 40 minutes, with about 4 of those coming on the offensive glass. Those numbers are almost identical to former Knick center Nazr Mohammed. In fact, between the three stops, Butler’s blocked shots, turnovers, and rebounds are comparable to Nazr’s. As I said in March, it would be a “win” if Isiah was able to get anything in return from picking up Butler from the CBA. But if Jackie turns into a player of Nazr’s caliber, Thomas will have accomplished a major feat and cemented his status as a young talent evaluator.

Right now, Butler is probably 4th on New York’s center depth chart behind Curry, James, and Frye, although his prospects of playing might not be as bleak. Jerome James has had only one season where he has missed less than 17 games. Meanwhile Frye might see most of his time at power forward, and Curry’s health will be an eternal question mark. It’s possible that Larry Brown might have to rely on Jackie Butler if the Knicks big men gets bitten by the injury bug. While it’s unsure if Brown will turn to Butler other than out of emergency, one thing is clear. When Jackie Butler steps onto the court, he will be a force under the boards.

Isiah Currys No Favor With Fans

Isiah Thomas reminds me of Felix Unger. The Odd Couple character’s downfall was that he couldn’t leave well enough alone. Nearly every episode had Unger ruining his life because his compulsive nature forced him to go too far. Last night, Isiah traded for the Bulls’ disgruntled center Eddy Curry. Chicago had been looking to move Curry since he pulled his Redd Foxx act during last year’s playoffs. Thomas traded away the Knicks young power forward Mike Sweetney along with Tim Thomas and garbage time specialist Jermaine Jackson along with two picks, which have yet to be disclosed.

The only way to like this deal is if physique is your only criteria on building a basketball team. Of the two, Sweetney is the one more likely to be confused as a Sumo wrestler. But for those who’ve watched their fair share of Knick games last year, Sweetney used his body in the paint to his advantage, tossing opponents like, well, a sumo wrestler. An excellent rebounder, he used his size, reach, and footwork to pull down rebound after rebound, often tipping them to himself when fighting against taller opponents. On the offensive end, when he received the ball under the hoop, there often seemed to be only two options: an easy field goal or a trip to the foul line.

However going into next year with the third year player as the starting forward wasn’t good enough for Isiah. Thomas insists on building the team in his “younger and more athletic” mold. Curry certainly fits that bill, just like outgoing Tim Thomas did. However it’s arguable whether or not Eddy is the better player on the court.

Name		FG%	PSA	USG	RBR	R/40	TO	PF	PER
Sweetney	52.2	1.16	17.6	16.8	11.5	2.7	5.6	16.6
E. Curry	52.9	1.13	21.2	11.8	8.5	3.3	5.1	15.8

They score at about the same rate, although Curry’s usage rate is higher. That could be because the offensively challenged Bulls leaned on Eddy, while the Knicks never featured Sweetney in the half court set. The turnover numbers and foul numbers are close enough to even out. However despite giving up 3 inches and 10 pounds, Sweetney’s rebounding numbers puts Curry to shame. Using John Hollinger’s rebounding rate, Sweetney ranked 20th last year in the league ahead of such luminaries as Yao Ming, Zach Randolph, Shawn Marion, and Elton Brand. In fact within the last year Isiah Thomas has traded two of the top 20, with Nazr Mohammed showing up at #11 on that list.

If Knick fans are looking for a silver lining on this deal, it won’t be Curry’s defense. While Chicago was one of the top defensive teams last season, the Knicks didn’t get the defensive stalwart of the Bulls frontcourt. According to 82games.com, the Bulls were 3.3 points worse with Curry on the floor, although he did keep opposing centers in check with a 13.3 oPER. Last year those numbers were 2.7 and 13.8. Dan Rosenbaum rated Curry as the 5th worst defensive center in the league while Matt from Bulls Blog, now over at BlogABull.com, said Curry won’t help the “Knicks’ awful help defense.

In fact in that column, which was written almost a year ago, Matt hit the nail on the head:

Another observation was laughing at the Knicks’ awful help defense. Curry won’t help there, but sometimes Isiah sees something shiny around the league and must have it. After my initial look at Sweetney (and I would really like to hear a Knicks’ fan’s perspective), I’m starting to hope that Isiah gets his man.

Isiah’s obsession with other team’s players has led him to acquire guys like Jamal Crawford, Jerome James, Tim Thomas, and now Curry. Jerome James came from a playoff team, but since he barely played, his contribution to their success was dubious. The 2004 Bulls won 23 games, and Isiah has 3 of their starters (including Antontio Davis)on his roster. Do these sound like the players you would be targeting if you were a GM?

The only positive is Curry’s arrival means the Knicks no longer have to worry about being undersized at the 5, but it comes at a heavy price. While I have no illusions that Sweetney would be enshrined in Springfield, he’ll be an above average starting power forward in this league. Additionally, the supposedly still rebuilding Knicks have given up some future considerations in the form of draft picks. Meanwhile, the Knicks will pay Curry $60M over 6 years. I usually don’t like to deal in hypotheticals, but it’s logical to assume the Knicks could have gotten Sweetney to sign for half that. Sweetney would have given the Knicks about the same amount of production (albeit at a different position) for half the price & New York wouldn’t have to worry if his heart will hold up under the Gotham media.

Isiah’s fault seems to be his inability to stay the course. One minute the Knicks are rebuilding, the next they’re spending $90M dollars for two centers with dubious histories. At the last trade deadline the Knicks were stock piling draft picks like a Central Park squirrel in fall, but now Isiah may have given away two for Curry.

Marbury is still an offensive force, while second rounder Trevor Ariza has flashed great potential. Nate Robinson dominated the summer league, and could be Isiah’s second steal in a row. Additionally, the Knicks have two more youngsters in Frye & Lee. Coach Larry Brown is one of the best in the business. If Isiah stopped there, New York would be in great shape to start the season. Instead, he’s bogged down the team with bad contracts. Eddy Curry, Quentin Richardson, Jamal Crawford, and Jerome James will reportedly cost the Knicks over $180M for the next 5-7 years. That will undoubtedly make the Knicks observers in free agency over that time. The worst part about it is that none of those players are worth it. None are locks to even make a single All Star Appearance. With the salary cap, it’s better to underpay for marginal talent than overpay for an average return. New York’s downfall will be Isiah’s inability to sign cheap talent and leave well enough alone.