New York Knicks 96 – Houston Rockets 120 – Game Recap

I won’t toy around even a tiny bit: this game was pure ass. The final score doesn’t even begin to tell how mismatched were the two teams, with the worldbeating Rockets straight up abusing the Knicks from the start, and without needing too much from the reigning MVP to complete that feat (because let’s face it, in 2019 a 26 point game from Harden – on 21 shots! – is kinda subpar) or elite efficiency from the whole team; the Rockets shot 42.6% from the field, but connected on 22 threes on 59 attempts while our guys were just able to muster 6 trifectas on 27 tries. The starters did a lot of damage, as three of our starters ended with -30 or less plus/minus while Chris Paul and Harden posted a tidy +34 and +29, respectively.

Honestly, the game looked like a lot of the games I played semi-competitively in my youth. I always played in outmatched teams, and most of the time opposing teams would just run us out of gym in less than 20 minutes. To this day, I remember a game I played in 1995 where the final score was something like 92-19 (I kid you not) and I was the leading scorer for my team with… 4 points.

Seriously, there’s no point in telling you how this game was, so I’ll just focus on the main course: point Mario.

Mudiay was out thanks to a sore shoulder, so with the team completely out of serviceable point guards (sorry, Billy Garrett, I have a hard time seeing you stick in this league) Fiz elected to give the lion’s share of playmaking duties to the Croatian Kobe. Simply put, it was a blast. I don’t mean this in the sense that Mario might have a future at the 1, but watching him play the part made evident a concept we should all be aware of: our point guards simply suck at distributing (the jury is out on DSJ, who showed some promise before injuring himself and letting the position open for Emmenthaler Mudiay), and as soon as there someone actually capable of making a strong entry pass assists tend to pile up.

What do you know, point Mario recorded his first NBA triple-double last night, with a fat line of 16/16/11 on 11 shots. The 4 turnovers are a bit too much, but it was a glorious individual performance. Mario is like a talented painter who mostly “paints” slinging his own feces at the canvas, but sometimes remembers to put actual paint on the palette and then proceeds to give you glimpse of pure art. Last night, in his most complete performance ever in this League, he gave us his “Girl with a pearl earring”, a well-balanced masterpiece where everything falls into place. Last Wednesday, he raged against the Magic with fiery strokes, delivering his “Saturn devouring his own son”, a gory, scary, pulpy and a bit pointless creepy act of artistic revenge. The Lakers game with the iconic block on LeBron was his “Composition VIII”, a mixture of things that had no business being there but in the end look good and meant to be. The Giannis stepover was like a Lucio Fontana work of art: a single cut on the canvas that makes you wonder “Is that all?” but ultimately resonates through a lot of arts’ cognoscenti (Every other game is similar to a chicken holding the brush in her beak and running around smearing paint on the floor).

Still, a marvelous triple double for him. Since there’s nothing else to say about this game (other than Mitch keeping alive his 2+ blocks streak and eating alive Faried on one occasion), I’d like to treat you to “The history of the triple double”.

***

I learned about the existence of a thing called triple double unpacking Upper Deck cards in 1994 (it was also my first exposure to NBA, thanks to the intuition of my uncle and to the fact that the newspaper stand had no change, so the vendor “gifted” us with three packs of cards – I still remember the first ever card I pulled out, it was of the Denver Nuggets’ shooting guard Bryant Stith). That edition had a special section about triple doubles, god knows why. Well, the first time I incurred into the notion of a triple double it was thanks to Rumeal Robinson, who recorded two triple doubles in 1993 for the Nets while substituting for the injured Kenny Anderson, and was thus granted a special card by Upper Deck. At that time there was no Internet (nor Basketball Reference), so I guessed this Rumeal guy was a big shot in the NBA having accomplished such a great feat twice. Little did I know that a triple double was not that big of a feat, and little could I know that in the late 2010s the triple double movement would have seen such a spike that even Mario Hezonja and Jarrett Jack could record one manning the point for the Knicks.

***

It’s 1996, late February/early March. The team I play for is approaching his last game of the season, having already been eliminated from the playoffs (but not without putting up a fair fight; that year we won 7 of the 16 games we played). A few of our guys are sick with colds or fever. I have to play all 40 minutes (the only instance of me playing the whole game; I was a starter – at center, since my polished 5’8″, 145 lbs frame accounted for second tallest guy on the team, welp – for the whole season but usually played 30mpg banging with guys 6’3″ or taller and weighing at least 190 lbs). I finish the game with the only triple double ever recored by that team, with 10 points (on 16 shots, urgh), 16 boards, and 10 steals (at the time it was impossible to record triple doubles in Italy. Assists were awarded only if you passed the ball to a guy in the paint and the guy didn’t have to dribble even once for it to be considered a valid one). Of course we lost. If your center shoots 5-for-16 for the night, what do you think will happen? By the way, I also have the only 4-point play ever made by a player of that team. Incidentally, that team folded in 2001.

***

Throughout Knicks history, there have been only 79 triple doubles. It’s not hard to guess who has the most (it’s Clyde, of course, with 23). I’ll let you guess who’s second and third*. Anyway, in the last 30 years there have been only 13 triple doubles by a Knick player. Mark Jackson is the only one having more than one – he had four. Notable names on the list: Raymond Felton. Chris Childs. Jarrett Jack. Mario Hezonja.

Yes, Mario and Jarrett Jack have as many triple doubles in a Knick jersey as Patrick Ewing.

***

For context purposes, the NBA has seen 120 triple doubles (and counting) just in the 2018-2019 season. Ten years ago, the grand total was 30. We’re living in a golden era, in terms of league-wide talent. It’s a shame that our team is so devoid of such talent. For now?

A few notes:

– We clinched the worst record in the NBA! It was the worst year since the lottery exists to do it (Dolan’s razor anyone?), but it’s still a nice feat, especially because we avoided malcontent festering inside a pathetic losing team. I have to give credit to Fiz for that. Just for that.

– Henry Ellenson is a weird dude. Once in a while he looks slick as hell (even if very slow and plodding). 16 and 7 for him. I wouldn’t mind guaranteeing him for next year to be a homeless man Kelly Olynyk for us.

– You know who’s improved mightily as the season went by? Nah, not a player. Rebecca Haarlow, that’s who. More confident, more relaxed, more professional-sounding, dare I say even better looking (love the casual mini-ponytail she was sporting last night)?

– Speaking of Haarlow: I don’t know if you saw it, but the interview with Mitch’s high school coach was nice. The guy looks like a good-hearted, no-nonsense man. Thank you Butch for everything you taught our wonder tall baby.

Only three to go! We’re almost done, guys. We stayed strong. We won the tanking battle. It’s a tale for the ages. When we’ll be old and cranky, we’ll remember nights like these and we’ll remember they led to a ring, sooner or later. Especially if Jeff Bezos buys the Knicks, you know?

*second in that list is Richie Guerin, with 16. Third is Michael Ray Richardson, with 12.

Houston Rockets 114 – New York Knicks 110 – Game Recap

First of all, let me atone. I doubted Trier. I really, really thought he could have lost a step and a half because of his new contract. Well, it looks like I was wrong. Evidently, hamstring injuries need time to heal, more time than I thought. I’m happy to have good Zo around. His good games are very rootable, and we all need something to root for.

To be honest, this game gave us plenty of that. An extra close game, decided by a three by Eric Gordon and a Vonleh turnover, that was on the line until the last seconds thanks to the contributions of many young players. We also got treated to another few minutes of Frank-Trier-Dotson-Knox-Mitch, which is the most we could ask from this season from day one. Also, well, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Harden’s monstre performance, only the last in his seemingly endless streak of superpowered scoring games. Harden went for 61 (matching the new MSG record for opposing players) in 40 minutes, adding 15 rebounds for good measure. If Houston makes the playoffs, there’s no way he won’t win back-to-back MVP awards. I think it’s only fair, even if he probably isn’t the best player in the NBA right now (Giannis takes the cake in my opinion), because having watched him last night against our beloved Bockers it’s safe to say that he’s the guy who both shoulders the most weight for a team and is the one who manipulates best the game as it is in 2019. There have been only 68 games in NBA history where a player has scored 60+ games: Harden is only one of two backcourt players to have at least two of them with less than 40 FG attempts. The other two: Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant (fun fact: Melo has one – the famous 62 pts game vs. Charlotte – where he scored more than Harden last night and shot less). Houston plays long stretches where its tallest player is 6’7″, and still comes up on top because Harden is this irreplicable basketball machine who has transformed via stepback the three point line in his own pop-a-shot (with fouling benefits). The guy has scored his last 312 points completely unassisted. I don’t know if there are words to describe him apart from “Modern era basketball Konami Code”.

But this game wasn’t only about Harden! So let’s put on our Knicks cap and proceed without further ado to our usual sections

The good:

– Yeah, well, I should have put “Spoilers, duh” after the first paragraph. Allonzo Trier (31 pts, 10 rebs, 3 ast, +19 +/-) played the best game for a Knick rookie this year, barely edging Knox’s Milwaukee game and his own Detroit one. What made it the best game for a Knick rookie this year was the fact that, as an undrafted rookie, he was designed as the man at the end of the game and he delivered what he could: 7 points in the last 90 seconds, with three clutch free throws with under a minute to play after having successfully baited PJ Tucker to foul him at the three point line and a cannonball drive to the rack with just seconds to go. His defense was nothing to write home about, but in this game almost nobody was really paying attention to defense. With this performance, he’s the seventh rookie this year to record 3+ GameScores higher than 20. The others are: Ayton, Bagley, Doncic, JJJ, Young, Carter. Is this supposed to mean that Zo should have been selected with the 7th pick? Nah, but when healthy and focused this kid does a really nice impression of a mini-Harden. Coincidentally, he recorded a game-high plus/minus exactly equal to Harden’s. I also loved seeing Chucker and Chuckerer (him and THJ) bawling at each other after a botched fastbreak where Trier didn’t pass the ball to an open Tim under the basket. He was wrong, of course, but it was nice to see THJ drink a bit of his own medicine.

– What’s more to say about Mitchell Robinson (12 pts, 1 reb, 3 blk, +12 +/-) that’s not already been said? Dude’s the most exciting prospect we’ve had in a few years (I’d put him on par with early KP), only he’s so uncoordinated and eager to leave his mark that he’s a walking foul/injury. He’s a bad rebounder, maybe because he’s all over the court trying to defend as many people at once as he can (sometimes being able to, sometimes not). He’s a guy who blocks two James Harden three-point attempts. He’s a guy that can’t stay on the court for more than 17 minutes because he just fouls out unceremoniously as soon as someone gravitates toward the rim. He’s a guy that traps people so hard that they are much more likely to lose the ball. There were at least two occasions in this game where he helped steal the ball at midcourt. All in all, a majestic if erratic (and rebounding-deficient) performance from our best 2018-2019 rookie.

The bad:

– Emmanuel Mudiay (14 pts, 4 reb, 2 ast, -11 +/-) didn’t have exactly a bad game, but seven turnovers might convince you otherwise. While he’s been the starter with the least-negative plus/minus of the game, his “defense” on Harden & co. has been one of the most eyes-gauge inducing things of the season. And that’s not because of Harden’s totals. There are times when the eye-test doesn’t tell the whole truth. With Mudiay, you need the eye-test to understand how bad he still is. It’s mind-numbing to think that he might really be our best PG, simply because he’s the only one with an NBA body and his handle doesn’t resemble a crippled crane. Frank played a bad game shooting-wise but I will choose every single day his performance because, well, someone who moves the ball is much more helpful to the team than someone who can be useful only driving to the basket without too much purpose.

Fun-sized mini-bits:

– Nice to see Kanter sit down entirely this game, even with the yawning Kornet sidelined. Sometimes Fiz makes the right decisions.

– A right decision was the one to get ejected, giving a free point to the Rockets in a close game. Yay for the tank!

– Tim Hardaway was a mixed bag in this one. He shot terribly from two, good from three, and never lost the ball. I think it was a goodish performance, maybe Indiana will call us?

– Frank with 6 assists and decent defense, plus a gorgeous behind the back fastbreak dribble for a Mitch dunk. Other than that, dude’s useless. Meh.

– Dotson and Vonleh are pretty much the same type of player, even if in different roles: steady, solid, unspectacular, can be counted on. +1 to Vonleh, though, for his game-low -19 plus/minus and the turnover that sealed the deal.

– With Mitch and Zo healthy, Knox is back into his “ugly duckling” role as a rookie. It’s still good to see him grab 8 boards in a contested game.

And we’re done till Friday! Sorry for the brevity, but time’s a tyrant sometimes!

 

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.

T-Mac Trades That Could Help New York

With trade rumors circulating, I decided to look at some of the possibilities of a three way T-Mac deal. From the Knicks perspective, it’s obvious that they want to shed either Jeffries or Curry, and rumors are that they covet McGrady. It’s unlikely that the Knicks are going to make the playoffs, but the Rockets are on the cusp, and they’re interested in getting something tangible for their oft-injured former All Star. Meanwhile the Wizards are looking to salvage something from their disasterous season, most likely in the form of cap relief and young talent.

With that in mind there are a few possibilities. The simplest one is this:

New York gets:
McGrady GF

Washington gets:
Harrington PF
Mobley SF
HOU 1st round pick (protected)

Houston Gets:
Butler SG
Haywood C
Jeffries F

Basically the Knicks unload Jeffries and get McGrady as a last ditch effort to make the postseason. Meanwhile the Wizards clear Butler’s salary off their cap and get a draft pick in return. The Rockets eat some salary, but get three players that will aid them reach the postseason. Houston can protect that draft pick in case they slip in the standing.

There are a few ways to work this deal if parties aren’t interested in certain aspects of it. For instance New York has reiterated that they would not trade Cuttino Mobley, so they can do the deal with Darko Milicic instead. Additionally the Knicks can ask for seldom used PG Mike James as well. What if the Rockets don’t want Jared Jeffries, but the Knicks are still enamored with T-Mac? They could send Nate Robinson to Houston, but not Washington

Of course just because this was reported in the news doesn’t mean that these teams are even discussing such a swap. But if the teams are interested in such a deal, it shouldn’t be too complicated for them to work something out. Personally I’m not thrilled with acquiring McGrady, since I don’t see him helping the team much unless if his arrival pushes Chris Duhon to the bench. However if the Knicks are able to unload Jeffries in a package, then it’s a no brainer as long as New York doesn’t give up any youngsters or draft picks. If either team requires any of Chandler, Gallinari, Hill, Douglas, or a draft pick to make it work, then New York should walk away from the table.

Does T-Mac Make Sense For New York?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debunking The Four vs Five Theory

One of the reasons I started this blog was to question NBA cliches, vapid expressions like “defense wins championships”, “momentum”, and “chemistry”. One thing that’s been on my mind recently has been some of the debates on KnickerBlogger during the Lee/Balkman era. For years David Lee has been a favorite by a section of KnickerBlogger writers and followers, and in the earlier days the General’s troops received a lot of criticism for supporting him so vehemently. Lee’s detractors argued that putting him on the floor hurt the offense because his limited skills gave opposing teams the equivalent of an extra man on defense, saying that the team was trying to score 4 on 5. Meanwhile Lee’s supporters argued that his excellent inside scoring and rebounding forced the opposing team to keep a man on him.

To be clear, this was early in David Lee’s career, before he extended his range to 15 feet and was more aggressive with putting the ball on the floor. Also I’d like to add that Renaldo Balkman deserves mention in this discussion. Much like Lee, Balkman’s offensive game was limited to scoring near the hoop and recovering his team’s missed shots.

This topic has been on my mind because some fans are giving a portion of the credit to the Knicks recent win streak to the insertion of Jared Jeffries into the rotation. I don’t want to bring Jeffries’ defensive contributions into this discussion, and admit that there’s no doubt most of his value comes from that end of the floor. What I’m most interested in is solely the discussion on the offensive side of the ball, and I’d like to limit this topic to that portion.

Jeffries is just awful on the offensive side of the floor, with exactly one skill – rebounding. Of course this is the same attribute that Lee & Balkman exceled at, but the latter were better at it and had the additional attribute of being able to score around the basket at a good rate. Jeffries slightly higher turnover rate is exacerbated by his low point total. (In other words, his hands are much worse than the other two.) If the ability for defenses to leave a offensively challenged 5th man uncovered was real, then Jeffries would be a lightning rod for such an effect.

  Player Year eFG% FTA  FT% ORB AST TOV  PTS  TS%
Jeffries 2010 .444 2.8 .576 3.1 2.2 1.9  8.2 .473
 Balkman 2010 .521 3.2 .531 3.4 1.5 1.6 10.5 .533
     Lee 2008 .575 3.7 .762 3.8 1.7 1.7 12.7 .621

A good example of Jeffries ineptitude was Saturday’s game. Jeffries overall line wasn’t awful, as he scored 12 points on 10 shots with just 2 turnovers and 2 assists. However his stats, which were atypically good for Jeffries, belies how poorly he played. Easily he could have had a much better night, as he missed two wide open three pointers, a 5 foot hook shot, and three layups two of which were blocked. The latter acts are typical of Jeffries who at 6-11 is inexplicably feeble around the basket. At the end of the night, Jeffries was a team worst -13.

If you asked me to sum up in as few words as possible why I don’t believe in momentum in basketball, I would say watch enough games, and you’ll see that when announcers start talking about momentum often enough the momentum will “shift”. Momentum typically isn’t something a team builds on, but rather it has zero predictive ability. New York had a lot of momentum in their 12-0 run early in the first quarter, of course until the Rockets followed it with their own 13-5 run. Momentum truly is just the last shot. You would expect when the Knicks began to play Jeffries, one of the worst offensive players in the league, major minutes that there would be a sizable group of fans discussing the Knicks being hurt by having to play 4 vs 5 on offense. However it seems that the opposite has occurred. When the Knicks put Jeffries into the starting lineup and began to win games, no one mentioned his hindrance on the offensive side.

Normally when I debunk something I tend to look at it from a statistical bent. However in this case, since the observational analysts seem to be content with the results, I guess I should be as well. Or rather, if by using the same source (a team trying to score with a player who isn’t able to score on his own) and method (observational data) a group of people come up with two different theories (Lee/Balkman are detrimental to the team, Jeffries is not) then you can assume that there is an inherent flaw in the study and the theory has no merit. From my perspective this is a clear case of looking at the result and trying to fit an answer into the blank. When the Knicks were playing poorly, the “4 vs 5 offense” existed and part of the problem. When they were playing well, the “4 vs 5 offense” wasn’t real.

I guess if I wanted to give real proof I’d point to the 2006 Pistons who had the league’s 4th best offense despite giving Ben Wallace 35 minutes a night. From an observational standpoint I could look at Saturday’s game. If the Rockets let Jeffries freelance without a defender then David Lee and Wilson Chandler would be the most hurt. But the duo shot a combined 20-30, most of their work coming from in the paint and in the midrange.

In fact the Knick offense was fine unless Jeffries was shooting. If he made his three layups (which you’d expect from someone 6-11), the Knicks start the 4th quarter up by 7 points. Add in the two turnovers and two wide open three pointers he missed, and the team would have cruised to victory with an average performance from #20. So it wasn’t that the other team was able to use Jeffries to stunt the rest of the offense, but rather it was Jeffries own futility which hurt the offense. So if the Knicks aren’t having their entire offense disrupted by having Jared Jeffries on the floor for 33 minutes a game (his average since December 6th), then playing a offensively superior player like a young David Lee or Renaldo Balkman wasn’t a detriment either.

2010 Season Preview: Optimist vs Pessimist

Optimist: Ready for another year of exciting basketball?

Pessimist: Ready to get another beating this year?

Optimist: What do you mean?

Pessimist: Well every year you make these wild predictions about the Knicks, and every year I kick your butt in.

Optimist: The last time we did this 2 years ago I predicted 43 wins, and the Knicks won 23, but that’s ancient history. I’ve learned from my mistakes, and feel confident about this year. Don’t you?

Pessimist: Um, never.

Optimist: Look at it from the bright side. Last year’s team won 32 games, and this team has a lot more going for it. The roster alone is deeper. Milicic, Hill, and Douglas are new additions, then add in a healthy Gallinari and a trimmed down Eddy Curry and you have to admit the team is a lot deeper, no?

Pessimist: Darko Milicic? He’s 24 and has been on 4 different teams already. Can anyone tell me what Jordan Hill does well? From what I saw this summer, he’s a power forward that’s shies from contact and likes to shoot hooks & jumpers. Douglas is a combo guard that shot 28.8% eFG in the summer league (including an arctic 9.1% from downtown). Gallo already has back problems, and a “trimmed down” Eddy Curry? Isn’t that like a suped up Ford Tempo?

Optimist: Easy there Pessy. Listen Darko will protect the paint. Hill will give some rebounding and outside shooting. Douglas can defend too and run the offense. Gallo is going to be the next Nowitzki. And Curry is going to score a ton in the paint. And anyway those 5 guys aren’t the core of the team, just some extra help. Lots of bench players in the league have faults.

Pessimist: Faults? The Knicks’ bench is like San Andreas. Which reminds me I have update my earthquake insurance.

Optimist: Earthquake insurance in New York City? With those kinds of prediction abilities, how do I lose to you every year? Anyway, the Knicks had lots of guys shuffling in & out last year. Crawford, Randolph, Collins, Roberson, Rose, Tim Thomas, and Jerome James, not to mention all the NBDL guys (Crawford, Sims, Nichols, Samb, and Sene). Certainly this year’s roster will be more stable.

Pessimist: Perhaps. But who is to say that Donnie won’t pull the trigger to shed some more contracts. Curry and Jeffries will be gone if Walsh receives a half decent deal (at least you’d hope so). And the Knicks don’t have a draft pick to sweeten the pot, so they’ll have to throw someone in like Chandler, Gallo, or Hill.

Optimist: Wait a second, you’re saying getting rid of Curry or Jeffries would be a bad thing? Let’s just see how things pan out before dumping on Walsh. Donnie has been pretty shrewd with deals so far.

Pessimist: Like Balkman & Von Wafer?

Optimist: No like getting rid of Randolph & Crawford. You have to admit he’s been good with regards to shedding contracts & having a long term plan.

Pessimist: How about not getting the #5 pick for Jeffries & Chandler? And not sending Jeffries and Nate to Sacramento?

Optimist: Those are just rumors. Nobody really believes those.

Pessimist: *aheam*

Optimist: OK almost nobody.

Pessimist: I think the knock on Walsh is whether he’s a good evaluator of talent. Say what you will about Balkman, but there’s no doubt that Von Wafer could have helped this team last year. The Knicks were starving for a shooting guard last year, had Wafer on their summer league team, and the next thing you know Wafer was starting for the Rockets. This year the team still needs a shooting guard, they had Morris Almond on their summer league team, and … need I say more?

Optimist: C’mon, you’re killing Walsh for Balkman, Wafer, and Almond? I’m not too concerned with the end of bench guys. D’Antoni isn’t likely to play them anyway.

Pessimist: What about Jordan Hill? He didn’t look all that great in summer, and I don’t see him breaking the rotation this year.

Optimist: That just shows how deep the team is. See you’re making my point for me. Anyway, Let’s move on to the offense. You have to admit that the Knicks will be better on offense this season. It’s the second year of D’Antoni’s offense so the players will be more acclimated to the system…

Pessimist: … Got any proof that players do better in the same offense?

Optimist: No, but it sounds right. Add in a full season from Gallinari. The guy hit 44% from three and 96% from the line. Give him more than 400 minutes and scoring will increase.

Pessimist: That’s the teenager with the bad back, right?

Optimist: Actually he’s 21 now.

Pessimist: You know Crawford played almost the same amount of minutes last year as a Knick, and hit 46% of his threes? Anyone can put up eye-catching numbers in limited minutes.

Optimist: He’s still young, and it’s realistic to think he’ll improve as he matures. The offense will improve this year?

Pessimist: And the defense?

Optimist: Darko Milicic, Jordan Hill, Toney Douglas are all defensive players …

Pessimist: First off none of those players are likely to see a lot of minutes. Curry, if he ever gets in shape, could push Darko for time so the Knicks can showcase him. And both of them will keep Jordan Hill on the bench. Toney Douglas will likely see time, but not if he’s shooting 20%. You have to admit the defense will be just as bad as last year.

Optimist: It won’t be worse and is likely to be better. Will you admit the offense will be better than last year?

Pessimist: Of course not.

Optimist: Time to put your money where your mouth is – how many wins are the Knicks getting in 2010?

Pessimist: I’m skeptical of the improvements. Hill shot pretty bad in the summer, Douglas shot worse, and Milicic has shot pretty bad his whole career. Eddy Curry is a turnover machine who doesn’t rebound on the defensive end. There’s still no true shooting guard. Number 8 overall pick Jordan Hill can compete against Wilson Chandler to see who shoots less free throws. I’ll go with 32 wins again.

Optimist: The team has definitely improved. They’ll top last year’s total and then some. The additions to the roster will help D’Antoni mix & match and won’t leave the team helpless when the inevitable injuries occur. Better seasons from Gallinari & Curry will only help the team. Continuity with the coaching staff is a plus as well. I’ll go with 38 wins.

Pessimist: Next you’re going to tell me they’re going to make the playoffs.

Optimist: 8th seed, which will be good enough to attract that kid from Ohio!