Robert And His Dad Watch The Game.

This is the second in a (hopefully ongoing) series of entries in which your intrepid journalist watches the Knickerbockers and provides a (mostly) unedited Hunter S. Thompson/Bill Simmons-esque Gonzo running diary of the evening’s events. Here’s the first installment.

Because I have neither the time, financial wherewithal or media clout to schlep to Bahh-stin to attend this titanic tilt in person, I’m instead making a hajji to a friendly cul-de-sac/brownstone on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where my parents have resided since the early 70’s (The UWS back in the day was a rough-and-tumble part of town. For serious). Now, one might assume that an evening of father and son getting together in the United States of America to watch a sporting event might make for a bucolic, almost Norman Rockwell-worthy scene. There’s a hitch though…

Though neither or I nor anyone in my extended family take much stock in any mystical/religious explanations for daily events, we’ve got reams of empirical data showing that my Pops, by his mere presence in front of the TV during a ‘Bockers game, makes bad things happen. He’s like a b-ball specific version of William H. Macy’s character in the Indie flick, “The Cooler.” I’m not kidding. Literally, when he turns on the game, big leads vanish, wide-open shots clang off the rim, and passes mysteriously sail out of bounds. He stops watching and the team returns to playing decent ball. This does seem to be a relatively recent phenomenon, however, as he’s been a die-hard Nix fanatic since the late 60’s (and like any fan who actually watched Frazier et al. spin live, no NY unit will ever live up to the myth/mythos of that squad).

This year, he’s mainly taken to self-imposed exile in his studio between 7 and 10pm and then watching the worst-edited show in Christendom, “Knicks in 60” thus avoiding unleashing his awful, hoops-negating powers. So while we’re not sure what God or Gods he’s offended to bring this awful curse upon his head, like the Knicks charging into enemy territory and taking on the hated Celts (cough, and the refs, cough), we’re laughing in the face of predestination and superhuman forces and in no uncertain terms, daring them to rain whatever plague of frogs or locusts or Big Babies or Rajon Rondos they might visit on us by watching the entire affair tonight, together, in the comfort and safety of my childhood home.

(But if the Knicks get killed tonight, no need revisit the “Fire D’Antoni!” chant/mantra. Y’all know who’s really to blame.)

6:55 – Arrival. No sooner am I through the door and my Pops informs me that Bennett Effing Salvatore AND Joey Crawford are working tonight’s game. Sweet fancy Moses, I’ve been cursing Salvatore’s name for thirty years! There’s no bigger “homer” in all of Ref-dom and he’s the king of the dubious “make-up call” as well. Somehow the  fact that we merely thought about watching the game together has disturbed the powers that be. We’re boned.

7:00 – We’re both avoiding the pre-game show. I’m cooking up some in-game treats. (Mini Pizzas w/tortillas for dough and homemade sauce. Cooked in a frying pan in lieu of a pizza oven. Yum-o!) As an aside, I really like cooking. Mainly because, you know how in life, you can plan something (work, a relationship, an evening out, etc.) to the Nth degree and think you’ve every last detail locked down tight, but then a completely random/unpredictable glitch lands in your lap and the whole magilla falls to pieces? Well, when you’re cooking, if you have good ingredients and a good recipe things generally turn out the way one would expect and everyone’s happy that you did it. It’s a wonderful, almost Zen exercise in the glory of probable cause and resultant effect. Whoops…game’s starting!

7:10 – It’s on. Dad’s got Hi-Def cable, woo! After watching the majority of this year’s games on my laptop via live-streaming (stolen) websites, it’s like being in a gallery and going from a Georges Seurat to an early-period Chuck Close.

7:11 – A foul actually called on a Landry Fields drive to the basket. What a concept! Two misses though. Bad omen, says Pop.

7:12 – There must be a lid on the basket. Dad says, “I think I’m affecting everybody.”

7:15 – Toney Douglas has a little Charles Oakley in him. He tends to fall down unnecessarily. He also picks up an early whistle. If Tone’s going to pull an Amar’e after he gets in foul trouble, we’re in for a long night.

7:21 – Rondo’s got 9 of Boston’s 11 points, pretty much all by beating the Nix down the floor. Celts up 11-9. And just as Dad and I were bemoaning DWTDD’s matador D, trying to avoid a 2nd whistle, he gets flagged. Anthony Carter time. Dad remarks that he likes DWTDD and mentions Dean Meminger as a point (pun intended) of comparison. I concur, even though I’ve never seen the latter play

7:26 – Celts up 16-11. Through grinding teeth, Dad grumbles, “Get back on D! Killing them so far! Call timeout!  when are they going to learn? Yep, that’s my team, they never learn. If the Knicks go another minute or two without scoring, I’m leaving to clean brushes.” Walker blows a dunk Rondo gets his 14th point followed by two missed free throws from STAT and there goes Dad.  He leaves and Melo gets the board for a Jared Jeffries?! layup. I’m not kidding about this curse stuff.

7:35 –  Knicks go on a 10-3 run with Dad gone. I’m screaming updates to him in his studio.

7:41 – End of the Ist quarter, down by two.  Dad comes back down, brushes in tow. We return to out ongoing debate about the relative merits of room light/darkness while watching a game. Basically, he likes a pitch black frame surrounding the set thus improving the clarity of the image on the screnn. , which makes sense from a color theory standpoint. While I like to see the faces of people I’m talking to. We debate. His crib. We sit in the darkness

7:43 – Jared Jeffries?! hits another tough shot and the Knicks are down by one. Pops describes JJ as, “The world’s ugliest sex doll.” I say he’s a giraffe on roller skates. Thoughts?

7:45 – Tie game, early 2nd quarter. Jeff Green gets called for a blocking fall on Billy Walker. Dad wonders what the right proper Bostonians are booing about — he was clearly in the lane! Dad says, “Screw Boston. They’ve got awful galleries.” Now that’s the kind of commentary you only get at Knickerblogger.

7:47 –  Knotted up at 28, at the timeout, we switch to the Mets to visit our bad Mojo on them. They’re down, 1-0 in the 4th inning. Natch

7:50 – Clyde describes Amar’e as, “Pounding on Big Baby.” Maybe I’m immature, but that sounds like a euphemism for mastubation. Dad concurs.

7:51 – The Moms enters and wonders what’s for dinner. Dad uses this as an excuse to leave so of course, Stat hits his first shot of the night. We should probably sacrifice a goat and/or virgin to shake the evil spirits. Maybe The Moms would enjoy that for supper.

7:55 – Celts 38. Knicks 37 and Garnett’s barking at his fellow charges like R. Lee Ermey. I know the general consensus is that KG’s “intensity” is genuine, but I know bad acting when I see it. I don’t buy it. Not one jot.

7:58 – “Toney!” I bellow as he picks up his 3rd foul with 3:21 to go in the half.  Of greater import, though, is STAT’s injury. On cue, Tina Cervasio announces he’s doubtful for the rest of the game. “That’s it,” Says Pop, “Too much to overcome.” He’s not really an optimist, if you haven’t gleaned that particular factoid already.

8:06 – Ladies and Gentlemen, your 4th string point guard, Roger Mason. Not sure why Anthony Carter’s in the doghouse, other than the fact that you really can’t have AC and Turiaf/Jeffries on the floor at the same time for any extended stretches or else you’re playing 3 on 5 on the offensive end (Sorry about the Hubie Brown 2nd-person analysis there). Pouring over STAT’s wikipedia page, it doesn’t look like among his numerous injuries, he’s ever suffered from back spasms before. Is it the Silverman curse? Should I change my name to “Bob Icarus?” It’s Melo or bupkis from here on out.

8:11 – Knicks up one at the half. This is exhausting.  I’d forgotten what the Nix-Heat wars were like. It was a truly gut wrenching experience because every shot or rebound or loose ball counted so darned much. Considering they’re without two of their best three players, it’s utterly remarkable how well the boys are playing. I mean, Jared Jeffries?! is 2nd in scoring and they’re winning. That’s enough to make anyone rethink their entire ideological/philosophical weltanschauung. I need a break and twelve cigarettes. Back in a few…

8:21 – Back from smoking. Pop  comments on the quality and density of Bernard King’s hair. He’s right. That’s a damned fine head of hair for a 50+ year old. Although I think there’s some “Just for Men” involved. After all, no play for Mister Gray!

8:32 –  Speaking of hairdos, I really don’t like the cutaways to Ray Allen’s Mom every time her progeny sinks a shot. There’s no particular reason, but it just peeves me.

8:34 – Carmelo’s our point guard tonight. That’s a smart move. Frazier’s worried about conditioning/fatigue, but it’s back to the, “Give the rock to Bernard and pray” offense of the mid 80’s.

8:37 – I’m getting scared. Melo’s gassed. The whole team’s in a general state of disarray.  Melo airballs a three, and just like that, the Knicks are down by five. You can feel these things coming. It’s a vibe in the air. I’ve said before and I’ll say again, basketball games are all more or less the same and when a teams about to go on a run, you can just sense it. The problem is they’re trying to redesign their offense on the fly in the middle of a playoff game. An uptempo team that normally suffers from a serious case of haliaphobia is dominating the glass but has ZERO fastbreak points in the game (and I think the series) so far. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but get Jared Jeffries?! in there, tout suite.

8:44 – Starting to get really chippy out there. Love it. Just love it. I love the fight and the hustle of this team – especially for a group that was accused of ‘not caring’ post all-star break

8:46 – Melo reloads or consumes Amar’e’s life-force or something because he’s just taking this game over. He hits a three to tie it at 59 but alas, Bill Walker gets called for a tech after the shot. Dad shakes his head. “This game is going to come down to FT’s. You give a team like Boston on the road a free point and you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Mark my words…” Words duly marked.

8:47 – Jesus Shuttlesworth is 4-4 on 3’s. I got a nutty idea. Don’t overplay/go for the steal when possibly the best jump shooter of the modern era is wide open on the left elbow. After all, that was the play that cost y’all game one, right Bill Walker? Nah, I’m just talkin’ crazy.

8:53 – Nix down by 4 and Stoudemire is officially declared out for the rest of the game. Honestly, that’s the smart move. This’d be a tough game to win even with a fully healthy STAT. Better to save your bullets for Friday night/The Friday Night Knicks Robert Randolph Family Band Curse (As opposed to tonight’s, “Robert Silverman Family Band Curse”).

8:55 – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player like Rajon Rondo before. They’re literally ignoring him unless he’s a foot from the basket and the lil’ spud still finds a way to be devastating.

8:56 – Mason airballs a 3 and they’re down 7.  I emit a gutteral yawp. Dad laughs. he’s seen too many of these. His chuckle hangs in the air as Pierce nails 2 more mid-range jumpers. “That’s it for me,” says Dad, exiting. He permanently banishes himself to the other room to watch the other semi-pointless familial obsession — the trails and travails of the so-called Left in this country via the Rachel Maddow Show. We’re both cursing our ill fortune, but for wholly dissimilar reasons.

8:59. Like clockwork, no Dad and the Knicks cut it to a manageable 7 at the end of the 3rd.Can they actually win this game? I mean, it’s doable, but HIGHLY unlikely that they pull this out. I hate moral victories, but staying with these guys sans two huge pieces would certainly qualify. I’d give a kidney for an immoral victory at this point.

(NOTE: As the tension mounted in this game, my writing became less and less coherent. I’m going to leave it in its original form because I think it gives a far better impression of my overall emotional/physical state than any polishing could. For those who think I gave the computer over to a drug-addled, babbling fiend/overstimulated chimpanzee, you’re not far off. )

9:05 – Ok – my first official ref gripe – how was that not a foul on Davis shoving JJ out of bounds? Gives PP another shot. Just a killer, But boy, has Melo channeled his inner King tonight.

9:09 – Give Carmelo a 2 minute breather NOW.

9:10 – Turnovers. Guys falling on the floor for loose balls. Seriously ugly basketball but I LOVE IT. Melo could play for Riley’s guys any day, right down to the silly/stupid “kung fu fighting” as Clyde’d say.

9:16 – I’m just screaming. Nothing coherent to say. This is not how objective journalists react. This is how FANS react. Like I said, I want to win because there’s no reason they should win. GIMME IMMORAL VICTORIES!

9:21 – a common B. Salvatore trait – in the 4th calls get weird/makeup-ish..and on cue, Melo gets fouled, loses it out of bounds. No call but gave the Knicks the ball anyway.

9:25 – Melo w/the LJ-like 3! Up 3! 2:30 to go. CLENCHED FIST OF TENSION. MUST SMOKE. MELO RULES. I take back everything I said about the Gallo trade! Melo = Bernard w/three point range!!!

9:32. Oh god…not again. Celts back up 1. Haven’t scored in two minutes. Boston WILL NOT LET MELO shoot. Someone else has to hit one. I’d put on Extra E for Jared here, just to open the floor. Go offense/defense.

9:35 – I’m stunned. I’m literally speechless. JJ hits a tough layup. unreal…Nix by one.

9:37 – Garnett hook puts celts up one. I disagree with Clyde. Don’t double – Garnett hasn’t done sh*t all game…here we go…

9:39 – You can’t go to Jared twice. Ow. It hurts.

9:55 – Well, I’m certainly not nearly as angry as I was after Sunday. They lost, but at least it was on the up and up. Considering the refs, I’m semi-shocked. Dad comes back. By the various tones and timbre of my grunts, he’s aware that the Knicks lost. “It’s ok,” he says, “I was watching the demise of American Democracy on Maddow.” So there’s that.

I won’t delve into the intricacies of this loss — Should Jeffries have been on the floor, what the heck happened to Melo’s/everyone’s brain on the inbound to West with 4 seconds left, the fact that they went toe to toe with the defending Eastern Conference champs with a non-Melo 4th quarter lineup of Jared Jeffries?!, Toney Douglas, Roger Mason and Billy Walker (possibly the worst quartet to take the floor for any playoff team in a long, long time), what’s happened to the artist formerly known as Landry Fields — that’s for wiser, less enervated folks than I to handle.

“Did the Walker tech end up being the difference like I said?” Dad asks.

“Yeah. Sort of. They’d have been tied at the end instead of relying on Jared Jeffries?! to give them the lead. Boston would have had to hit a shot with 4 seconds left instead of merely stalling. Could have been overtime. Who knows.”

“Tough loss,” he says putting a hand on my shoulder. “We’ll get ’em next game.”

Maybe so. Maybe so. I’m impressed how well he’s taking this one. Then again, he’s 83 and (on certain subjects) has mellowed with age. Don’t get him started on the effing Democratic party, though. One part of this story I failed to recount is my father is an artist (the best damn draughtsman alive, if you ask me. But I’m not exactly what you’d call impartial). He’s commemorated our evening together with a drawing. So as a closer, here’s a picture that’s certainly worth 3000 or so of my words.

Take that, Norman Rockwell! See you for game three, lads.

2010 Game Thread: Knicks @ Celtics

Happy Saint Patrick’s day. 

The Knicks (24-45) travel to Boston (42-24) looking for their third consecutive road win.  The Knicks are only 9 games out of the final playoff spot with 13 games to play. So if the team can keep up the strong play and combine that with prolonged struggles from Toronto and Chicago the team still has a shot at the 8th–“Another round? Well sure and begorrah! I just need to (hic) finish this game preview.”–seed.  Let me know in the morning if the Knicks win, just make sure you speak very softly.

Be safe tonight people. Go New York Go.

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.

The Remastered Michael Jordan

Two things happen this week that seem momentous but really aren’t. Except that they kind of are.

Yesterday, (when love was such an easy game to play), a remastered edition of The Beatles’ entire catalogue was released, much to the delight of millions of people who already own copies of all of their records.

On Friday, Michael Jordan (for whom Game 1 of the 1992 Finals was such an easy game to play) will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, a foregone conclusion that would have come to pass five years ago had Jordan not (temporarily) traded his golf clubs for a Wizards jersey in 2001, two years shy of becoming eligible for first ballot enshrinement.

So it is that the worlds of rock music and professional basketball turn their respective eyes to the greatest icons in their respective histories, despite the fact that neither icon has created anything new, accomplished anything unexpected, or done anything else to warrant the attention being newly heaped upon them (especially not that awful Okafor for Chandler trade). And yet, somehow, I have spent the better part of the week with the Beatles playing on my iPod and am in the midst of DVRing 9 hours of NBA TV’s Jordan marathon (including the double nickel, which I will revisit out of the masochism with which visitors to a website named KnickerBlogger should be well acquainted).

The lesson, I suppose, is that truly transcendent greatness, the kind that gets inside its observers and re-emerges as either influence or obsession, doesn’t ever stop. Icons capable of so thoroughly dominating the cultural consciousness at the height of their greatness end up defining those cultures long after that greatness subsides. Some people desperately search for excuses to revisit the experience of buying Beatles albums (Oh, the harmonies on Abbey Road sound good this time? You’re kidding!) because they want to recapture the awe they felt hearing them for the first time; other (or in some cases the same) people use Jordan’s Hall of Fame Induction as an excuse to watch 20 year old basketball games for the fifth time without seeming like they’re (completely) crazy.

We buy into contrived excuses to revisit that kind of brilliance for two reasons. The first reason is that the kind of greatness in which the Beatles and Jordan traffic is irreplicableirreplicable because no one, not the Kinks or Kobe, not Oasis or LeBron, can ever be exactly what The Beatles or Jordan were (and still are), mean exactly what The Beatles or Jordan meant (and still mean). Through their achievements and connotations (both good and bad), both have carved out places in the zeitgeist whose impact can be equalled, possibly even surpassed, but never duplicated.

The second reason we keep going back for more is that transcendent greatness is inexhaustible. Much like the second half of Abbey Road or the crescendos in A Day in the Life, Jordan’s series winning jumper over Craig Ehlo in the first round of the 1989 playoffs never stops producing goosebumps. Neither does his dunk on Ewing in the ’91 playoffs (which gives me a rare goosebumps/nausea combo), his hand-switching finish against the Lakers in that season’s Finals, the Flu Game in the ’97 finals, the ’98 title-winner over Bryon Russell, or any of a dozen other moments, each of which is, individually, made greater by awareness of the whole; in Jordan’s case, success is all the more meaningful because so few failures exist to counterbalance it (on the court, at least).

The elephant in the room here is that I am a Knicks fan and, as such, I (and most of the people visiting this site) rooted against a great many of the accomplishments that are now being aggrandized in this space. At the time, I couldn’t have imagined that some of the very moments that served to keep the Knicks titleless throughout my youth would become the moments that I held in the highest esteem little more than a decade later. But, in the end, Michael Jordan’s induction into the Hall of Fame is not only a celebration of his brilliance, but also a celebration of brilliance itself. We watch the highlights and re-read the columns and anticipate his induction speech for the same reason that the opening chords of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band continue to boost listeners’ pulses four decades after they were recorded.

Because greatness is always worth celebrating and always worth revisiting. Even if we need a dumb excuse to do it.

Congratulations to Michael Jordan from a fan base that respects you as much as it hates you. The most fitting tribute we can offer you is a comment board filled with memories of times you crushed us.

Pre-Draft Camp Mock and Draft Thoughts Part II: L-O-T-T-O!

If you haven’t already done so take a look at Part I, done prior to the lottery.

Now that the ping pong balls have bounced, leaving our beloved Knickerbockers no better or worse off than they’d have been just based on record, I’ll re-work the lottery picks and post the remainder of this first round mock.

1. LA Clippers – Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma: If Mike Dunleavy’s recent declaration of undying love for Blake Griffin is true then he’ll probably trade players to clear room for his new beloved. If it’s not true then the #1 pick may represent a rare opportunity to clean up a roster that is a mess, possibly in one fell swoop. (Previously: Ricky Rubio)

2. Memphis – Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain: Choosing Rubio has its advantages, regardless of whether he wants to play in Memphis. His rights become an asset for the asset-starved Grizz. Even though Memphis should do this, no player in this draft generates more ambivalence for me than Rubio. The talent is evident, but there are lots of reasons it may not work out for the team that drafts him. (Previously: Demar DeRozan)

3. Oklahoma City – Hasheem Thabeet, C, UConn: Thabeet may be a one-trick pony but his trick is precisely what OKC needs. He’s a defensive anchor, with a decent shot at becoming a more athletic Mutombo. The downside is that he will probably never be even an average offensive player. But, in this draft there’s something to be said for being fairly certain of a player’s “floor”. (Previously: Brandon Jennings)

4. Sacramento – Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy: Sactown will most likely take the best PG left on the board. I suspect Rubio would prefer Sactown over Memphis, and perhaps a deal can be struck. (Previously: Blake Griffin)

5. Washington – Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona: The Wiz is the team I think most likely to deal its pick. If they keep it they’ll be looking for depth that could help in a pinch, but with some upside. Hill is a lot like Chris Wilcox. (Previously: Hasheem Thabeet)

6. Minnesota – Tyreke Evans, G, Memphis: I think Minny opts for the highest upside player on the board regardless of position. It could be Evans, depending on workouts. It could also be Hill, Jennings, DeRozan, or Lawson. Almost literally nothing they do would surprise me, which I hope they interpret as a challenge. (Previously: Evans)

7. Golden State – James Harden, G, Arizona State: I’ve loved to watch this kid play since he was a junior in high school. To me he’s the 6’5″ Paul Pierce. Other mocks have him higher right now, but I expect that on draft night he’ll slide in between 5 and 8. (Previously: Jordan Hill)

8. New York – Ty Lawson, G, UNC: I almost pulled the trigger on Lawson in the previous version. Now that I think Nate Robinson most likely will be signed-and-traded this July, Lawson becomes a better fit. He used to be just a fly-down-the floor guard (and frankly, there is something to be said for that) but his screen roll game has really evolved. I expect him to shine in workouts. He may be this year’s Westbrook–an already well-regarded player who vaults up the board based on superior workouts. Oh, and I really hope Walsh can find a 2nd round pick this year. This draft has some potentially very useful role players. (Previously: James Harden)

9. Toronto – Stephen Curry, G, Davidson: Is it possible to NOT love Steph Curry’s game? He fits Toronto like a glove, even down to his weaknesses (i.e., lateral quickness, overall athleticism, defense). He’s also the right kid to play outside the lower 48. This is a makes-too-much-sense-NOT-to-happen move if Curry is available. (Previously: Stephen Curry)

10. Milwaukee – Dejaun Blair, PF/C, Pittsburgh: Blair’s rebounding and long arms may get him to the top ten. (Previously: Ty Lawson)

11. New Jersey – Demar DeRozan, SF, USC: I think DeRozan is the biggest gamble this draft. It’s just not clear if he’s really good at anything yet. Add to that, he may be leaving town one step ahead of the sheriff with allegations of payola hanging over Tim Floyd at USC. Having said that, I’d honestly be a bit surprised if someone doesn’t pull the trigger on him earlier. (Previously: Jeff Teague)

12. Charlotte – Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke: With Larry Brown making personnel decisions, there is simply no way to anticipate what he’ll do. What I can probably write down is “scrappy, hard-nosed defender with a high basketball IQ” and just wait to fill in the name. I like Henderson as a solid sixth man who plays both ends. (Previously: Gerald Henderson)

13. Indiana – Jrue Holiday, G, UCLA: Holiday was probably among the most shocked when Darren Collison return to UCLA for his senior season. That moved Holiday to SG, where he struggled playing limited minutes out of position for a team with a style that doesn’t exactly fit his strengths. I’m not an “everyone should play one year!” guy, but Holiday should go back to school for another year. He’d definitely move to PG this year and could vault himself into the top 5 of next year’s draft. He may yet do so in this draft based on workouts, but the new format doesn’t allow as many chances for teams to see players as in the past. As of this writing he hasn’t hired an agent, but everything I have read suggests that he’s in the draft to stay. (Previously: Earl Clark)

14. Phoenix – Johnny Flynn, PG, Syracuse: The rumor mill says that Phoenix likes him. We’ll take that as a baseline pick. (Previously: Johnny Flynn)

15. Detroit – Earl Clark, F, Louisville: I am not a fan of Clark’s offensive game, particularly shot selection, but he’s a good defender. (Previously: Wayne Ellington)

Once we get out of the lottery, beauty will be in the eye of the beholder. I expect trades galore and one or two “who the hell is that guy!?” selections as well.

16. Chicago – Jeff Teague, G, Wake Forest: Teague is an undersized SG, a high-usage player both years at Wake but improved his TS% from 59% to 62% almost exclusively by getting to the line. He looks like Ben Gordon with a clue.

17. Philadelphia – Chase Budinger, SG/SF, Arizona: I posted a fairly extensive take on him at Arizona Desert Swarm. At this point in the draft he’s a bargain as a 6th or 7th man. It’s also worth noting that Philadelphia currently puts absolute blechhh! on the floor at SG.

18. Minnesota – BJ Mullens, C, Ohio State: This would be a reasonable gamble on size, athleticism, and potential in the high teens.

19. Atlanta – Terrance Williams, SG/SF, Louisville: Like his Cardinal counterpart, Williams brings much more to the floor in defense and other areas unrelated to scoring. For its part Atlanta doesn’t need another mouth to feed on offense. Williams could bring back a little of what they miss since Josh Childress left for Greece.

20. Utah – Sam Young, SF, Pittsburgh: He plays a similar game to Matt Harpring; a little jump shot and a lot of bruises.

21. New Orleans – Marcus Thornton, SG, LSU: I’m not a huge fan of Thorton as a playmaker, where he was often miscast in college. As the new (better) Janero Pargo I like him a lot better.

22. Dallas – James Johnson, F, Wake Forest: I think the Mavs take the most athletic front court player they can find at 22.

23. Sacramento – Tyler Hansborough, PF, North Carolina: Hansborough isn’t a first or even second option in the NBA, but he will rebound, run the floor, get to the line, and should be a decent pick and pop player. DraftExpress’ comparison to Luis Scola sounds about right.

24. Portland – Jermaine Taylor, SG, Central Florida: What Portland needs is a slashing small forward to better compliment Roy, but they won’t get one unless they trade. They’ll probably end up moving this pick, but if not Taylor is a player that could develop into the kind of slasher they need.

25. Oklahoma City – Darren Collison, PG, UCLA: He would join former backcourt mate Westbrook, and projects to a very solid backup PG.

26. Chicago – DaJaun Summers, SF, Georgetown: Gamble on upside.

27. Memphis – Wayne Ellington, SG, UNC

28. Minnesota – Eric Maynor, G, VCU

29. LA Lakers – Jodie Meeks, G, Kentucky

30. Cleveland – Gani Lawal, PF, Georgia Tech

Note: Austin Daye would definitely be in the first round, but right now I am unsure about whether he’ll return to Gonzaga. I hope he does. I love his game. He just needs to put on some muscle.

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.