Step 1. Conclusion – Step 2: Look At The Facts

Bad writing is when an author writes an article with a biased conclusion before looking at any of the facts. The worst misuse of statistics is cherry picking ones that support your point, while ignoring any facts that reject your hypothesis.

Enter ESPN.com columnist Frank Hughes, and his article “These moves aren’t so smooth.” Now I’m not such a Knick fan that I would let my fandom get in the way of an objective and intelligent argument. However luckily for me, Hughes’ article was neither of these. Hughes sets the tone with the first line:

“With all due respect to my esteemed colleague and compadre Chad Ford: What the heck is Isiah thinking?”

The first time I read this I said to myself “Great!” I like to hear opposing opinions. Sometimes it’s good to have a devil’s advocate, because it keeps you in check. If you can’t defend your ideas and theories, then maybe they aren’t as valid as you think. Even better, sometimes you’ll learn something that’s contrary to your current beliefs, and change the way you think. Unfortunately the article had little chance of swaying any rational person. Read on:

“If, in fact, Isiah signs Erick Dampier to go with a sign-and-trade deal for Jamal Crawford that essentially eliminates any future flexibility he may have had, well, in my mind that is figuratively putting the cement shoes — why has Nike not made a pair of those yet? — on the Knicks and throwing them in the East River on a frigid January day.”

Organized crime references to describe a New York sports team? Nothing says bad writing like a tired, drawn out metaphor. Memo to Mr. Hughes: the Knicks have been in salary cap hell for years now. Even without Crawford & Dampier’s contracts, they will be over the cap until at least the summer of 2007. This is his only valid point in the entire article. Being over the cap gives you less flexibility than being under the cap. However being over the cap & being willing to take on more contracts doesn’t make you inflexible. Consider this: if the Knicks are so inflexible, then how come they only have 3 players remaining from the pre-Isiah era? And Zeke hasn’t been with the team for a whole year yet! That sounds pretty darn flexible to me.

Looking at the Knicks roster, they still have some valuable trading chips. Sweetney is valuable for his contract as much as his promising ability. I’d imagine a few teams are interested in Kurt Thomas and Nazr Mohammed. If the Knicks don’t trade them this year, next summer they have a ton of expiring contracts to deal in Penny Hardaway ($15.8M), Tim Thomas ($14M), Nazr Mohammed ($5.5M), and Moochie Norris ($4.2M with a team option – an option that no sane team would be dumb enough to activate). That’s almost an entire salary cap in expiring contracts, enough to make any money strapped GM start drooling. The year after, they have about $35M in expiring contracts in Allan Houston, Shandon Anderson, & Jerome Williams (team option).

So what is Hughes “proof” of Isiah’s poorly thought out plan:

“Yes, I agree, some of the Knicks’ pieces certainly look good, to go with Stephon Marbury and Allan Houston. But now more than ever I am a big believer in chemistry, and when you really get right down to it, the collection of players Isiah has assembled has really accomplished very little in their respective careers, and they have had plenty of time to do it.”

Did you catch that? Chemistry = career accomplishments. What type of chemistry I’m not exactly sure about. Is it locker room chemistry? On the court chemistry? Molecular chemistry? He just doesn’t specify the type. Of course what does he use to measure career accomplishments?

Number of playoff games played.

That’s right it’s the old ring argument (Player A is better than Player B, because he’s won more championships). This kind of thinking is just not well thought out, because winning a playoff game or championship is a team effort, not an individual one. Last year, the following players didn’t play in the playoffs: Vince Carter, Tracey McGrady, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Gilbert Arenas, LeBron James, Carlos Boozer, and Allen Iverson. I didn’t even bother to include any players from the West. Players that did have playoff experience were such superstars as: Dana Barros, Vin Baker, DerMarr Johnson, Shammond Williams, Daniel Santiago, and Wang ZhiZhi. I don’t know about you, but if I were making a team, I’d overlook playoff experience, and go with the first group.

Let’s see he continues with this line of thought, and if you think I’m paraphrasing to make my point, read the article & be the judge for yourself. (Bolding is not in the original article, but added by me.)

  1. “[Marbury]’s been in the league now for eight seasons. Ten. [Editor’s note: I don’t know why this sentence “Ten.” is there or what it means, but I left it in so you get the exact feel of the article.] You know how many playoff games he has been in in that span? Eighteen. And he’s never been out of the first round…
  2. Tim Thomas has been in the league nine years, playing a grand total of 33 playoff games
  3. Kurt Thomas, signed at sizable dollars through 2008-09, has 48 career playoff games in nine years with career postseason averages of 6.5 points and 5.8 rebounds
  4. “Since he left Orlando in 1999, Penny Hardaway has played in a grand total of 18 playoffs games. By comparison, his sophomore season in Orlando, he played in 21 postseason games…
  5. Nazr Mohammed … has played seven playoff games and has never advanced past the first round. He has career averages of 6.7 points and 5.3 rebounds…
  6. Allan Houston is the biggest conundrum because he clearly is talented. He also clearly is frustrating, going into long spells of quietude during a season and seemingly disappearing at important junctures…

What’s interesting is how he changes the facts he uses from one person to the next when the stats don’t support his point of view. To bash Tim Thomas & Marbury, he shows how few playoff games they’ve played. However, unfortunately for Frank, counting playoff appearances doesn’t necessarily work with his third choice: Kurt Thomas. Kurt’s seen enough playoff action with the Knicks, including going to the Finals in ’99. So he drags up Kurt’s poor playoff statistics. Of course he doesn’t mention that those numbers are heavily weighted when Kurt was a backup (only 22 minutes per game, not the 31+ we’ve been accustom to over the last 3 years.) In his playoff experiences as a starter, Kurt’s averaged 13.6PPG & 11.4REB, which is conveniently ignored. Also ignored are Marbury’s playoff numbers: 19.4PPG, 6.7AST, and 1.6STL.

For Penny Hardaway, not only does he eliminate his early playoff success with the Magic, but uses it against him. In essence splitting Penny’s career in two. What gives him the right to do that? Did Penny’s “chemistry” change after he left Orlando? BTW since Hughes doesn’t mention it, Penny’s career playoff numbers since he left Orlando – 19 games (not the 18 he falsely reported), 17.1PPG, 5.4AST, and 1.7 STL.

For each of the first five guys, he’s mentioned the number of playoff games they’ve played in over their career and when it suits him, their playoff statistics. But eventually he has to mention Allan Houston. H20 has played in 63 playoff games, averaging 40 minutes, 19.3 PPG, and a 48.7% eFG%. If Hughes wants to be an impartial and forthcoming writer he can mention these numbers, and say that Houston is the only player on the Knicks with playoff experience. Surely admitting that the Knicks have one playoff tested starter won’t blow his whole argument out of the water. So does Frank take the high road?

“Allan Houston is the biggest conundrum because he clearly is talented. He also clearly is frustrating, going into long spells of quietude during a season and seemingly disappearing at important junctures.”

I have to give Frank some credit, if you’re going to write bullshit, you might as well use big words like conundrum, quietude, and junctures.

I won’t even bother to go over the rest of the article. It’s more of the same – choose a player & pick only the numbers that make your claim look good. The flaws are obvious in this piece, beginning to end. If Hughes want to criticize Isiah’s moves, then there are many logical arguments that would make sense. This is a lesson to all aspiring writers out there. If you are having trouble writing an article because the facts don’t support your point, then maybe your initial hypothesis was wrong in the first place.

Risky Business

The Good News: The Knicks and Bulls have agreed on a deal to send Jamal Crawford to New York

The Bad News: Jamal’s agent has rejected the deal because he wants a better contract.

The Mercury News is reporting that Paxson & Isiah have sorted out the players involved in the highly awaited Jamal Crawford deal. The problem this time is Crawford’s agent, who doesn’t want to accept the contract the Knicks are currently offering. The article reports a few relevant details, none of which I can verify, but let’s assume they’re true for hypothetical reasons.

  • The deal the Bulls originally offered was 6 years $39M.
  • The deal the Knicks are offering are 7 years for $55M.
  • Crawford & his agent originally thought they would get 6 years for $55M.
  • If Crawford has to stay with the Bulls they will offer him $3.5M next year.

Using these facts I’ve come up with three scenarios for Crawford’s financial future.


Year 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Age 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

DealA $4.8 $5.3 $6.0 $6.8 $7.6 $8.6 ?
DealB $5.1 $5.7 $6.6 $7.6 $8.7 $10.0 $11.5
DealC $3.5 $6.7 $7.5 $8.5 $9.5 $10.7 $12.1

I approximated each contract by taking the total deal, and breaking it down by year assuming he would be getting a 12% raise each year. DealA is the Bulls original offer, which Crawford has already turned down. He would be a free agent at age 31 in the summer of 2011. DealB is if Crawford’s agent accepts the offer the Knicks have given him, and is traded to New York. DealC is Crawford playing next year for $3.5M, the one year deal offered by the Bulls. The next year, he would become an unrestricted free agent, and let’s just assume he signs the 6 year $55M offer that he is reportedly asking the Knicks for.

So what’s the total for each deal?

DealA = $39M + contract for 2011 season

DealB = $55.1M

DealC = $58.6M

For DealA to be anywhere close to the other two, Crawford needs to make more than $16M in 2011. This can only happen in three ways: Crawford would have to become the most dominant player in the league, the salary cap would have to make a phenomenal rise, or Scott Layden has become a GM again. So Crawford’s agent made a wise choice in declining that offer, especially in light of the Knicks current offer.

However, the difference between DealB & DealC is $3.5M over 7 years. In fact if Crawford does take DealC over DealB, then he won’t see a net profit until his third year of the deal, because he’d lose about $1.6M staying with the Bulls next year. There are other things to consider. First is that DealC may be selling him a little short, since it’s entirely possible that Crawford could get more lucrative offers as an unrestricted free agent, than he’s currently getting as a restricted one. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that if Crawford does take the one year deal, his value can drop either by injury or poor play. If Crawford does get seriously injured next year, it’s possible that no one would give him a deal anywhere in the neighborhood of what he’s currently being offered. Finally, Crawford’s agent might be holding out for a 7 year deal. At a 12.5% raise, that would mean about $13M in 2012 (hence the article reported the possibility of a 7year $70M deal).

So Isiah has to factor in the Knicks’ desire for Crawford and decide how much (for how long) his services are worth. Meanwhile Crawford’s agent has to decide how far he’ll take his game of chicken, knowing full well that an injury could cost his client a $55M deal, versus a possible $13M payoff if he convinces the Knicks to give his client that coveted 7th year.

Dampier A Knick?

[NOTE: The notation in parenthesis is (Offensive PER / Defensive PER / +/- Roland Rating). For more information on this, look here, but quickly a PER of 15 is about average, while the higher the +/- is the better off the player.]

According to the NY Post, the Knicks are waiting for Dampier to choose their deal over more money with the Hawks. Apparently the Knicks are offering Dampier a 6 year contract starting at $9M. The Hawks can offer him a maximum deal, because well they’re the Hawks. The Knicks would send Othella Harrington and Nazr Mohammed to Golden State in this sign and trade deal.

Dampier has had his second fine season in a row (21/14/+1.1). Last year, he had a career high in PTS, REB, FG%, and minutes played. Dampier’s biggest improvement is in his FG% which has gone up every year since 2001 (40%, 44%, 50%, 54%). Erick’s other strength seems to be his offensive rebounding, where he got 14.3% of all possible offensive rebounds. How good is that?

Name	OREB%	DREB%
Damp 14.3% 22.2%
Deke 10.1% 19.1%
Nazr 11.5% 20.3%
Shaq 10.1% 20.3%
Ben 10.7% 22.2%
Brand 10.1% 16.8%
Duncan 9.4% 24.3%

It’s possible that Dampier’s numbers were inflated by weak rebounders on his team, or aided by the Warriors’ system, but nonetheless they are impressive. His rebounding should drop as a Knick, but exactly how much will be unknown.

In Harrington & Mohammed, the Knicks are giving away an average of 6.6PF/48 minutes. Looking at their worst offenders in this category, only one of their top 4 might be back next year (Vin Baker). Dampier only averages 4.5PF/48, which gives New York an improvement in this area. This is important for New York, as they were third worst team in the league in letting their opponents get to the foul line.

If they didn’t get a better player, Nazr (18.8/17.7/-2.8) would have been the Knicks starting center. His offensive PER was a respectable 18.8, but he gave almost all of it back on the defensive end (17.7). Also his propensity to commit fouls (5.8PF/48) kept him from staying in the game at times. Harrington (10/16/-3.7) was at his best decent, but he received less playing time as Sweetney developed into a solid option near the end of the season.

Everything looks like a steal for New York until you hit the books. Golden State gets a young serviceable backup center in Nazr for 2 years and only $5M per. Othella’s $3M comes off the books this year. That’s $8M in cap relief in two years, which is important for a team like Golden State that actually likes to be able to sign free agents without the help of another team.

On the other hand the deal the Knicks are reportedly giving to Dampier is a 6 year deal that starts at $9M. That means in 2009 Dampier will be in the last year of his contract, making about $14.5M (with a 10% yearly raise) at the age of 35. Erick has been healthy the last three years, but a peek at his stats show that he was injury plagued the three years prior. On his list of most similar players are Marvin Webster and Pervis Ellison. Webster stayed healthy until leaving the league, while Ellison’s other nickname was “Out Of Service” Pervis for all the time he missed.

If it goes through, I think this is a good short term deal for the Knicks. Dampier may not put up the monster numbers he did last year, but it’s certainly an upgrade over the Knicks’ centers last year. As a team, New York was outplayed at the center position (15/17/-1.8). There are two distinct risks with this deal. The first is Dampier’s health. Six years is a long time for a deal this big, and nobody knows how those early injuries will affect him down the road. Just last year, Dampier missed the end of the season due to his ankle.

The second is who is the Dampier the Knicks will be getting? There is the Dampier that for the first 6 years of his career was a poor shooting, oft injured center. Then there is the Dampier of the last two years, who has a nicely rounded game. Which one will appear in a New York uniform? Also how will his rebounding numbers change now that he is outside of Golden State? The Knicks are bent on never getting under the salary cap, so acquiring a player like Dampier in exchange for two bench guys seems like a short term no-brainer.

The Dawning Of A New Era

One day remains until teams can officially start signing free agents, and needless to say I’m a bit excited. Normally the draft is best time for a team to improve itself. Every year, there are usually a couple of good free agents that can improve a team, but not many. Sometimes a few good players get traded, normally due to contract restraints. Top players usually get locked up to long term contracts by their teams. For obvious reasons few are traded. It’s hard to trade in the NBA where it often feels like teams are enslaved by the salary cap. If you want to get a franchise player, your best chance is to have a top 3 pick & a lot of luck.

This year has been another story. Arguably the best 5 NBA players are (in my particular order): Shaq, Duncan, Garnett, McGrady, and Kobe. Two of these players are already slated to change teams, and a third (Kobe) is available as well.

It’s not the drinking water that is creating this GM’s Gone Wild effect. It’s just the culmination of two lucky events. The only way a team trades a top notch player is if the unhappy player is an upcoming free agent and demands a trade. The format circumstances that landed Houston T-Mac’s isn’t completely unheard of; it seems only yesterday that Phoenix traded for an unhappy Charles Barkley.

However the Lakers’ breakup seems more rare. NBA dynasties don’t get broken up with the players still at their high level of play. David Robinson retired from the Spurs and Duncan is still minding the paint in San Antonio. When the Bulls dynasty broke up, the main cog Jordan retired (twice). For the second dynasty, Pippen was traded, but was more pumpkin than carriage. Hakeem stayed with the Rockets until the age of 38, while Drexler retired in a Houston uniform.

Going back to an earlier generation, Isiah, Laimbeer, and Dumars all finished their careers with their championship team. So did Magic, Kareem, and Worthy. The same with the Celtics’ Bird, McHale, and Parish (OK Parish didn’t, but he was 40 when he left). Dr.J stayed in Philly as well. That gives us a good 25 years of NBA history where no dynasty has broken up like the current Laker one.

These three players changing teams alone will make for the most interesting offseason since the ABA/NBA merger. However throw in the crop of players available this year either because of free agency or trade (and a little controversy), and it seems we’re in for one of the best offseason rides.

Konichiwa

Hey guys I’m back! As soon as I can shake off my jetlag, I’ll be back to writing. I know my brain isn’t working at 100%, because I just looked down at the T-Shirt I’ve been wearing for the past 20-30 hours, and noticed that it’s been inside out the whole time. For those rabid fans that can’t wait that long for some of my hoops analysis, I wrote a small post on the Rafer Alston signing on a well known Toronto message board.

A special thank you to my guest-bloggers (arigatou gozaimashita!), who did a professional job keeping my page afloat! As for the summer status of this blog, there is still plenty of action left in the NBA, with a host of free agents still available. The Knicks have about $-50M in salary cap space, so the chance that they’ll land a top free agent is small. However it also means they’re less likely to throw a lot of money at a bad contract.

New York may not sign a big free agent, but I doubt they’ll stand pat this offseason. Isiah Thomas made a flurry of changes when he got the Knicks job, changing 6 of their 12 active players by the time the dust settled. A blockbuster trade may not be in the works, but I expect a few changes to occur before the season starts (including a certain buyout). And of course the summer league starting in July is something to keep an eye on.

Knicks Off-Season Preview (Part 2 of 2)

What the Knicks Should Do Now

I?m back to offer a ?quick and dirty? assessment of the Knicks? primary needs with the help of a few stats compiled at 82games.com. I also offer a few modest suggestions for how to address them. (By the way if you didn?t catch part 1 of my off-season preview go check it out.)

Defense. Overall the team?s aggregate defensive numbers depict a mediocre but not awful unit. However those mediocre aggregate numbers mask a disturbing trend. The Knicks yielded points per game (93.5, ranked 13th) that belied their respectable eFG defense (46.2%, ranked 8th). To put this in perspective consider that New York?s eFG defense was only slightly behind Indiana?s (46%), identical to New Jersey?s (46.2), and slightly better than Miami?s (46.4), Memphis?s (46.5), or Philly?s (46.7). However, New York gave up 93.5 ppg and 104 points per 100 possessions (ranked 12th), more than all the aforementioned teams. How, you ask? The Knicks were more generous than the United Way, sending opponents to the free throw line 26.8 times per game. This ranks them 3rd from the bottom. Only the Bulls and Jazz were more charitable.

The most straightforward explanation for why the Knicks fouled so often in 2003-04 is that very few of them can adequately defend their counterpart. In fact, in the backcourt Marbury was no better than adequate and Houston was only a bit better. The two starters managed to hold opposing guards to slightly below average shooting and below average PERs at their respective positions. (NBA eFG averages for PGs and SGs were 46.1% and 46.9%; PERs were 15.1 and 15.2) Houston actually played admirably well defensively, considering his age and knees, holding opposing SGs to 13.9 PER, well below the PER average at his position. Marbury?s individual defensive numbers did improve when he came to New York, though at least some of that may be attributed to the fact that Eastern Conference point guards were not as good as those in the West. The average eFGs and PERs for Western conference PGs were 47% and 16. The Eastern conference PG averages were 45.1% and 14.2. Interestingly, Marbury in Phoenix yielded defensive numbers that were practically identical to the average Western conference PG’s output. In New York he basically gave up the average Eastern conference PG’s output. So, while I was pleasantly suprised to learn that Marbury?s defense doesn?t appear to be turning scrubs into all-stars I think it’s safe to say that he could be a lot better if he wanted to be. In a pre-playoff article posted at NJ.com by the Newark Star-Ledger’s Dave D?Alessandro (whose link appears to have expired) Marbury talked unselfconsciously about taking his rest on defense to keep himself fresh throughout the game. On the other hand Frank Williams played spectacular defense, holding his counterparts to a PER of about 10.1 and 40% eFG per 48 minutes.

Unfortunately, the frontcourt?s defensive numbers were not encouraging apart from Penny Hardaway and Michael Sweetney, who both held their counterparts to below average PER and below 45% eFG. Kurt Thomas’s and Nazr Mohammed’s defense on opposing power forwards and centers was far from inspiring. But Tim Thomas’s 51% eFG defense (emphasis not in original) and above average PER on small forwards were worse than Keith Van Horn’s in New York. In fact they were downright Peja-like. Of course looking solely at a counterpart?s offensive production to measure defensive impact doesn?t tell the entire story, especially for frontcourt players who must rotate and cover for other players often sacrificing position to their counterpart. For instance, Ben Wallace looks like a mediocre defensive center when measured this way, but of course we all know better. Nonetheless, individual defense measures yield interesting insight into the Knicks because they expose the starters? overall poor individual defensive ability. Only two of the five starters appear even adequate by these measures. This inability to defend one on one in all likelihood explains why the team gives up almost 27 free throw attempts per game.

Offense. The Knick offensive numbers tell a similar story of overall mediocrity masking frightening underlying trends. The Knicks scored just under 92 ppg, right at about the league median (half the teams scored more than the Knicks, half scored less). The Knicks managed to be a decent shooting team, ranked 13th in eFG at 47.4% (but only 3.4% behind league leader Sacramento). This is despite the roster changes and despite playing long stretches without leading scorer Allan Houston. The Knicks outshot the Nets, Pacers, Pistons, and Heat on the season. The team?s top three offensive players, Marbury, Houston, and Tim Thomas, all shot well above 45% eFG and had at least an average PER at their primary position. The Knicks were also a solid rebounding team, one of only 11 who grabbed greater than one full rebound more than its opponents. Yet the Knicks ranked only 21st in points per 100 possessions with 102. How does a decent shooting and good rebounding team end up toward the bottom in scoring? Simple: the Knicks lost 17% of their offensive possessions to turnovers and they took only 21 free throw attempts per game. The turnover rate tied for 3rd worst with bunch of other teams. The Knicks made far more bad passes (-120) and committed more offensive fouls (-39) than did their opponents. Unfortunately the Knicks? turnovers were debilitating because they did nothing in sufficient quantity, like rebound or generate steals, to offset them. The free throw woes have been well documented; only Toronto took fewer free throws per game. The turnovers and inability to get to the free throw line more than offset shooting and rebounding that were modest strengths.

What are the Knicks most glaring needs? On defense the team simply cannot continue to send opponents to the free throw line. No matter what acquisitions Isiah Thomas makes this off-season it is self-evident that the team needs both defensive upgrades and perhaps more importantly a recommitment to playing defense, particularly from its top players. On offense the team needs better offensive efficiency more than a dominant post player per se. Although a dominant big man would be a welcome sight in orange and blue offensive efficiency begins with taking care of the ball. A big man?s impact is seriously diminished when the team loses almost 20% of its offensive possessions to turnovers. Just ask the Rockets, who are rumored to have grown weary of Stevie Franchise and his turnover prone ways.

So what should the Knicks do now? Again, my hope is to address this question at the strategic level rather than suggest a host of roster moves, keeping in mind that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

First, I strongly urge the front office to pursue only players that bring better defense, versatility, or ball handling/passing to the team – not just more prolific scorers. On defense the team needs substantially better individual defense, especially in the frontcourt. On offense the team?s turnover problems stem from a serious absence of ball skills among the starters other than Marbury. None of the other four starters are particularly skilled ball handlers or passers. The Knicks, with limited salary cap flexibility into the foreseeable future, will find themselves best able to acquire these skills by leveraging its few valuable assets for draft picks and young, reasonably priced veterans who can help lay the foundation for a winning organization. Fortunately the Knicks can add such players through the draft, salary exemptions, and by moving expiring contracts, waiting to add a star player as the final piece of the puzzle. This is the most realistic, if not altogether preferable, means of building a serious contender in the post-Jordan salary cap era. Detroit was the first to win a title this way but Indiana and Memphis have been building themselves similarly all along, now hoping to find the player who can elevate them the way Rasheed Wallace elevated the Pistons. For the Knicks, Isiah Thomas must perform due diligence and investigate the availability of the top talent but I?m certain he realizes that the team?s immediate future is more likely to be filled with the likes of Antonio McDyess, Shane Battier, and Trevor Ariza than Rasheed Wallace and Shaquille O?Neal. Though neither McDyess nor Battier would be a sexy acquisition both bring skills this team needs. They play at both ends of the floor, pass well, and don?t turn the ball over. The market for McDyess is almost certain to be limited to some part of the mid-level exception and Battier is the kind of player who could be targeted in a three way deal involving an expiring contract. Both players could potentially start or come off the bench and neither would likely prohibit the Knicks financially from making another acquisition. I am not endorsing these players per se, though I do like them, except to suggest that there will be numerous players available who bring the skills the Knicks need who are not necessarily stars.

Second, to the fans I would caution that failing to acquire a superstar does not equal a failed off-season. Many of us fans are infatuated with the idea of acquiring one (or more) of the premier (i.e., Shaq or Rasheed Wallace) or high second tier (i.e., Erick Dampier or Marcus Camby) post players expected to hit the market this summer. However it is extremely unlikely that the Knicks can land premier or high second tier big men with only salary exemptions to offer, and less to package in a sign-and-trade. Even should the Knicks somehow miraculously land one of the second tier big men for the mid-level salary slot, consider that his impact on the team could be lessened (if not swamped) absent improvements in New York?s two biggest problem areas: turnovers and fouls. So, for instance, although Dampier is a clear and welcome upgrade in every respect to Nazr Mohammed his ability to avoid foul trouble would be sorely tested by the team?s mediocre perimeter defense, and that could seriously diminish his impact. The point is that the Knicks must address turnovers, defense, and free throws in order to improve. They cannot upgrade in other areas and leave these unaddressed. As I look at any transactions Isiah makes this off-season that is how I will assess them, including the second round pick in the upcoming draft.

Third, the Knicks must find ways to drop deadweight from the roster before training camp. Shandon Anderson should be bought out and released, as was the plan at one time last season. It should be made clear that he is not in the picture. No hard feelings. Buying him out would be best for everyone involved. I feel similarly about Moochie Norris. In his entry Kevin suggests buying out Penny Hardaway. Financially, this move would be a no-brainer if both sides could reach an agreement. From a basketball standpoint however I wouldn?t be upset if Penny makes it onto the opening day roster. He and Marbury are really the only two offensive players on the team that can score, pass, and handle the ball. Although Penny?s physical skills have eroded he played surprisingly good defense at small forward last season, and he still ?thinks? the game at a high level. Apart from that, since he plays most of his minutes at small forward now he?s not really taking minutes away from any of the youngsters. Only Tim Thomas and Shandon Anderson played significant minutes at that position last season. If the Knicks could keep Penny to 15 minutes per game he would be valuable.

In all, this promises to be an exciting off-season but I hope the excitement is generated by prudent moves that continue to shape the identity of the franchise and lay the groundwork for a future NBA champion.

David Crockett, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina. He can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com

Knicks Off-Season Preview (1 of 2)

Hey Knicks fans. While the Knickerblogger is away on vacation he has asked some of us who bleed orange and blue to pinch hit. The Knickerblogger swings a mighty fine bat but I’ll do my best to measure up.

Two Lessons I’ve Learned from Joe Dumars

In some ways the weeks following the NBA Finals leading into the summer off-season is my favorite time, especially this season since I get to see the Lakers be dismantled. As a Knicks fan I am now at my most hopeful. So what should the Knicks do this off-season? I?ll take a few moments to speculate, hopefully restraining myself from proposing a list of shamelessly lopsided moves in which the Knicks bag Kobe, C-Webb, and ?Sheed for Shandon Anderson, Dikembe Mutombo, and future considerations. In fact I?ll keep my suggestions for specific roster moves at a minimum precisely because what I have learned from Joe is that it’s about identity first then players.

Having listened to numerous interviews with Joe Dumars over the past several weeks what has impressed me most is the clarity of his vision. Dumars?s plan for building a championship NBA franchise in an NBA shantytown is centered on developing identity first and talent a close but clear second. (What I label ?identity? others may call ?direction? or ?philosophy? but you get the point.) Dumars acquires talent (and that includes Larry Brown) to fit an identity not the other way around. That Joe Dumars is one smart cookie. Detroit’s no dynasty in the making – I don’t think – but they’re no one hit wonder either. I believe that Isiah Thomas could learn a couple lessons from his Bad Boys backcourt mate that could help transform the Knicks from playoff also ran into real contenders.

Lesson 1: Establish a basketball identity. At the end of the year one in the E.Z. (Era of Zeke) I really have no sense of what the Knicks are (or are becoming). This is not altogether surprising given that the Knicks followed a bona fide palace coup with a blockbuster trade, a coaching change, and another huge trade. But, presumably the point of blowing up the roster was to move the Knicks in a new direction. I am just uncertain about what direction that is. Put another way, can any of you sum up what ?playing the game the right way,? a mantra we heard repeatedly from Detroit players, means to these Knicks? For Detroit we know that playing the right way means nonstop hustle, suffocating help defense, and sharing the ball. For the Knicks I am uncertain what it means, unless clearing the floor for a terrible shot by Marbury constitutes playing the right way.

To be fair, these identityless Knicks did manage to make the playoffs. Unfortunately they spent this year?s first round pick dragging themselves across the threshold. Consequently, if the Knicks are to get younger and more athletic, to use Thomas?s oft-repeated phrase, then more roster turnover must be on the horizon. Frankly, turnover is not necessarily a bad thing on a team with so much flotsam and jetsam. Nonetheless ?younger and more athletic? is more of a description than an identity. An identity helps answer the question, what purpose would a proposed roster move serve? That’s why you establish it before you make a move. So, here we are at the end of year one E.Z. I think it?s fair to pose the question who are these Knicks? Maybe you all have an answer but I sure don’t.

Lesson 2: Develop young players. Among the many reasons that Joe Dumars decided that Rick Carlyle was not the right fit for what he was building was that Rick could never see what Joe saw in Tayshaun Prince. I think we all see it now.

If the playoff sweep at the hands of the Nets does nothing else for the Knicks hopefully it put to rest once and for all an era of near pathological disdain for young players. Clearly, the series revealed that the kids should have been better developed during the season, particularly when you consider how broken down and tired Marbury, Hardaway, and Kurt Thomas were by the end. The failure to develop Williams and Sweetney during a mediocre season borders on criminally shortsighted, or more accurately pathological. I am not suggesting that Williams and Sweetney are all-NBA talents but each provides more than adequate depth and is the top defender at his position. Besides, this is bigger than Williams and Sweetney anyway. The lesson here is that mediocre teams who overpay for washed-up role players and fail to develop solid, inexpensive young role players end up in salary cap hell and stay there.

Alright, that’s enough for now.

Next time: What the Knicks Should Do Now.

dave

p.s. Dedicated to Ralph Wiley. RIP Ralph. I’ll miss you… and the Road Dog.