Phil Jackson destroyed the stability he created with Knicks

The attraction of Phil Jackson running the New York Knicks was he would bring a sensibility to the organization that often didn’t exist.

Whether you agreed or disagreed with the moves Jackson made through the pre-firing Derek Fisher portion of his tenure, his presence became easier to accept because of a level of stability.

The team owned by James Dolan was going along in a rational manner.

They didn’t return much value for Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith, but you could see a level of logic behind both trades. Despite it taking longer than it should have – Carmelo Anthony did eventually shut it down for the season due to a knee injury. The dead weight on the team was sent away with Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani being bought out.

First-year head coach Derek Fisher spent about half the season experimenting with a more pick and roll based offense rather than the triangle and giving different players an opportunity to prove themselves.

Yea, they screwed up winning a couple games at the end of the season, but it’s not fair to expect players to not go out and try. It was just unfortunate results.

Drafting Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant brought along hope of Jackson being more open to adjusting New York’s playing style due to their skills sets in a good start to his second full offseason on the job.

Free agency should have been the first sign of slight concern when it came to Jackson’s view of what he wanted the team to be. He went after too many bigs and not enough attention to players who could break down a defense off the dribble.

Nothing Jackson did was overly harmful, but he gave insight into what he was looking for with how he constructed the roster. Individually, none of the contracts he gave out were bad, yet in totality they didn’t make all that much sense.

All that said, it wasn’t the end of the world. Rebuilding the Knicks roster from the tear down was more than a one-offseason process. Jackson needed to be given more time to flesh out what he was trying to accomplish.

The season started and the Knicks overachieved. Fisher implemented a smarter defensive scheme that tried to force teams into mid-range shots and the offense was a decent balance of using triangle principles and modern concepts. It wasn’t perfect, but it was something you could live with.

Fisher worked on developing Porzingis and Grant, maximized Thomas’ versatility on the defensive end, had Anthony playing brilliant all-around basketball and managed minutes in a decent fashion.

Once they hit 22-22, one of the healthiest teams in the league at that point in the season, started getting banged up. The nine-man rotation Fisher settled on could no longer be used and the Knicks lack of quality depth shined through. They played a bunch of close games and battled hard, but couldn’t close anything out.

Thinking back on it, in Fisher’s last games it was almost like he was trying to prove a point. In first halves he Knicks would run mainly triangle based offensive sets leading to them falling behind. In second halves they’d run a ton of spread PnR storming back into the game.

This pattern happened quite frequently.

Was it Fisher trying to prove a point to Jackson?

If he was should have Fisher tried to communicate better with his boss instead of being standoffish? Yep.

Should have Jackson been smart enough to see what was happening and not be stubborn about the type of offense that was being implemented? Yep.

The basketball reasons to fire Fisher didn’t make much sense. If it was other dealings that were more involved with off the court shenanigans so be it. Whatever the case, when Jackson made the decision to fire Fisher he tore down what he had worked so hard to build up – an appearance of stability.

Teams that are stable don’t fire coaches less than two years into a job with a group that was on track to be one of the most improved in the NBA.

Jackson made his buddy Kurt Rambis interim head coach and ever since they’ve gone back to their old clusterfuck ways.

Rambis trying to “win now” (poorly by the way, he’s not even good at that) has led to potential bad consequences. Melo is getting overplayed, they’ve swung towards increased base triangle action, the protect the paint screw threes defense is back, Sasha Vujacic’s role has increased while Grant’s has decreased and Porzingis is being used incorrectly.

The scary part of all of this is Rambis and Jackson openly discuss how improved the communication between the two of them is compared to Fisher and Jackson.

Simply put………that’s terrifying.

Even while only winning 17 games what made Jackson’s first year a success was an understanding of where the team was and what needed to be accomplished.

The same hasn’t happened this season – it feels like Jackson has become short sighted.

Outside of unrealistic trade rumors involving Jeff Teague – there’s been no attempt to address their slow, plodding, lack of dribble penetration backcourt.

Lower level guards such as Mario Chalmers, D.J. Augustin, Shelvin Mack and Ish Smith were all traded during the regular season. Maybe getting one of them wasn’t realistic, but a move of that elk could have been made.

They’ve had two players come on 10-day contracts in Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Jimmer Fredette and neither was given a chance to contribute in a meaningful way.

And the Fredette circus should have never been at MSG in the first place.

Jackson been content allowing Lou Amundson, Cleanthony Early and Vujacic eat up roster spots and not contribute in a positive way.

Jackson’s managing of the Knicks roster this season has lacked ingenuity and creativity.

Once the playoffs became unrealistic a smartly run team would have preserved Melo, experimented with an offense revolving around Porzingis and Grant’s skills, and used two or three roster spots to try to find cheap talent to add to the team gong forward.

The reason to be worried about Jackson has nothing to do with what his record is since being in charge of the Knicks. It’s quite the opposite – the bad record shows he understood what needed to be done in his first full year on the job. The roster is in a healthier place than where it was when Jackson took it over.

The question is with the decision-making and vision Jackson has demonstrated this season can he be trusted to be in charge of the Knicks going forward?

If Jackson isn’t able to set aside his ego in regards to the next coach and how the Knicks on court product should be shaped – what needs to happen is so painful I don’t have the will to even spell it out.

Game Preview & Thread: Knicks vs. Hawks

A Wednesday night Hawks-Knicks early-season game is typically not a game either Knicks fans or Hawks fans too mark down on their calendars as a must-watch before the season starts. However, Knicks owner James Dolan made things interesting when he guaranteed a Knicks victory over the Hawks after the Knicks were torn apart by the San Antonio Spurs.

The Knicks have lost four of their last five contests and Tyson Chandler is going to miss significant time, but Dolan is confident his team is walking out of Atlanta with a victory. Trying to decipher why Dolan guaranteed a victory over the Hawks Wednesday night is not something I’d personally recommend; Dolan doesn’t have a filter, so all we can do is sit back, enjoy roll our eyes, and not dwell on it — unless you’re Mike Woodson.

Woodson is thinking about changing the starting lineup again and it appears Metta World Peace and J.R. Smith are the front-runners to be inserted into the rotation. I guess Smith’s 1-for-9 display on Sunday really showed Woodson something. Something.

The Hawks are coached by Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich’s long-time assistant Mike Budenholzer, so maybe that’s why Woodson is thinking about adjusting his starting lineup. The Hawks are second in the league in assists per game (28.0), which is something the Knicks have struggled with, averaging just 18.5 (24th). This past offseason the Hawks opted to let Josh Smith walk, replacing him with Paul Millsap. It’s paid off thus far — Millsap is averaging 20.9 points per 36 minutes (highest on the team). More importantly, Millsap is doing it at an efficient 60 percent TS% and 57.9 eFG%. The other Hawks big man, Al Horford, is averaging 20.5 points per 36 minutes.

Horford and Millsap have been great for the Hawks thus far, but the biggest reason why the team has been so good offensively is their point guard Jeff Teague’s progression as a passer. According to the new SportsVU data on NBA.com, Teague is creating 32.1 points per 48 minutes through his assists. Teague is also third in the league in assist opportunities per game averaging 19.0, per NBA.com.

So, if the Dolan’s guarantee of a Knicks victory over the Hawks is to come true it will mostly fall on whether or not the Knicks can stop Teague. If the first six games are any indication, that doesn’t seem to be very likely: Raymond Felton has had a rough start to the season on that front, and with the absence of Tyson Chandler, chances are it’s only going to get harder for Felton to get back on track. Felton has shot his best inside (51.9 percent in the restricted area), but is still shooting roughly four three-pointers a game and only making 24% of them. His counterpart tomorrow night isn’t exactly setting the roof on fire either from behind the three-point line — Teague is shooting 27 percent from three-point land — but he’s getting to the line six times per game and doubles Felton in the assists per 36 minutes (10-5) .

With the state the Knicks current frontcourt is in, the Knicks probably won’t be able to slow down Millsap and Horford Wednesday night, but maybe Woodson’s backcourt rotation choices will ultimately decide if Dolan’s guarantee comes true.

Knicks 88, Pacers 76

Indiana Pacers 76 Final

Recap | Box Score

88 New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony, SF 31 MIN | 9-22 FG | 7-8 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 26 PTS | +18

Carmelo continues to provide daily evidence that FG% and efficient offense are not the same thing. 26 points on 22 FGA’s, 8 FTA’s and zero turnovers? Sign for it with a smile. On a day when neither team’s shots were falling, the Knicks won this game with offensive rebounds (Melo had 4) and a +11 turnover margin (Melo had 2 steals and committed 0 turnovers in 25 possessions used). If you don’t bring help he goes to the rim, if you bring help he looks to pass. His defensive effort was there all game, a happening that has become so routine as to barely warrant mention. He has fitted his play to the character of each game this season and ,despite shooting that hasn’t met his normal standard, is the biggest reason this team is 7-1. The biggest reason that they haven’t really been tested in any of the 7 wins. Whether he can be the best player on a legitimate contender is no longer a compelling hypothetical. It’s happening before our eyes.

Ronnie Brewer, SF 23 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 8 PTS | +17

The Knicks’ starting lineup includes 3 players with great handles, vision, and decision-making (Kidd, Felton, and (knock me over with a feather) Carmelo). It also includes two players with a preternatural sense of offensive spacing and when to do what off of the ball (Brewer, Chandler). Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out why lineups work well together. This is not one of those times. Ronnie Brewer was +17 in 23 minutes today. Sometimes single-game +/- stats can be misleading. This is not one of those times.

Tyson Chandler, C 28 MIN | 3-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 9 REB | 1 AST | 7 PTS | +8

Throw the stats out, this was his best game of the young season. Start with his incredibly active screening that created lanes for dribble penetration and forced defensive collapses when he rolled to the rim. Next, take Roy Hibbert’s line (a putrid 6/8/1 with 6 turnovers on 3/10 shooting) and stack Ian Mahinmi’s 0-for-6 on top of it for good measure. Finally, get a load of the Pacers overall 2 point shooting (20 for 51, or 39.2%), a reflection of their utter inability to finish in the paint and resulting willingness to settle for a lot of long 2’s, even early in the shot clock. Basketball is about movement above all else — player movement, ball movement, and the ability to prevent free-flowing movement by your opponent. If you’re wondering how Tyson Chandler could possibly be such a valuable NBA player without a jumper or any discernible post moves, that is your answer.

Jason Kidd, PG 23 MIN | 0-3 FG | 3-3 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 3 PTS | +12

A quiet outing after intentionally-drawn contact on a long jumper (a Kidd specialty) drew blood and birthed a new Twitter account. He was +12 in 23 minutes but didn’t touch the ball much.

Raymond Felton, PG 29 MIN | 5-15 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 8 AST | 11 PTS | +11

Uneven but ultimately effective outing from Ray. Still a few too many shots but since none of them were really forced I don’t think that’s really on him. Teams are looking to make sure that Felton jumpers are the best looks the Knicks get; it’s the coach’s job to make adjustments that get him more help. Sub-par shooting aside, 8 assists without a turnover is great and he did a nice job contesting looks from a very confused Indiana backcourt. Good but not great.

Rasheed Wallace, PF 17 MIN | 3-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 9 PTS | +7

Has thus far provided the steadiest (!) alternative to Carmelo when he needs a rest. Today’s effort was particularly encouraging because it was effective for a bunch of boring, sustainable reasons (7 boards and a block in 17 minutes) instead of dream-sequence-three-point-montage-romantic-puppy-surprise! reasons. Will be interesting to see what happens when Amar’e comes back (he would seem to be in the most danger of losing minutes) but if the playoffs started now and the rotation had to be shortened to 8 or 9 players, he would be safely in it.

Steve Novak, SF 24 MIN | 3-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 9 PTS | -2

It really says a whole lot about Novak’s Super-Mario-with-a-Star 2011-12 season that people have actually been stupefied at the demise of his 3-point shooting so far this year. He was 3 for 8 today (37.5%) and is now shooting 37.8% on the season. Reggie Miller shot 39.5% for his career (with a shorter line). Calm down. His defense has, however, regressed from “surprisingly passable” to “I wish this was baseball so we could DH him.”

Chris Copeland, SF 4 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -7

I think our official victory cigar this year should be Chris Copeland coming into a blowout, getting one clean path to the bucket, dunking, and hanging on the rim long enough to draw a technical foul (Joey Crawford stunningly declined to call it today but, make no mistake, it was there). That way if he hits the 16-tech suspension threshold it will be more a mark of the Knicks’ dominance than anything else. I’m not telling you how to do your job, Woody, just something to think about.

Marcus Camby, C 13 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -3

Apparently still on the team. Seriously, he has a uniform and everything. If you didn’t get teary-eyed seeing him hit the Garden floorboards for a rebound against the Pacers in a 28-24 game in the middle of the 2nd quarter, then I don’t even want to know you. If Woodson plays him in this role (basically the help-defending, rebounding yin to ‘Sheed’s chuck-and-grind yang) our frontcourt rotation starts to look pretty darn adaptable.

Pablo Prigioni, PG 16 MIN | 0-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 0 PTS | +1

I tweeted at the end of the third quarter that it was pretty hard to to play only 6 minutes and look worse than Pridgie had to that point. He then played a somewhat more passable 4th quarter, but against a lineup that would only have looked formidable at a Hansbrough family picnic. His first severe clunker of the year but it’s hard to see him staying in the rotation once Shump comes back (especially given Kidd’s Ponce de Leon act and JR Smith’s startling emergence as an offensive initiator (of which more below)).

James White, SG 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -7

Only 91 days to get your Slam Dunk Contest shopping done!

J.R. Smith, SG 30 MIN | 5-10 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 13 PTS | +5

SHIP CAPTAIN’S LOG: 71 DAYS SINCE THE WRECK

Food supply grows short and fresh water nears utter depletion. If they find this, dear Maisy, know that I have loved you and always shall. I have held out hope long enough that a passing freighter would see the bonfire that still rages on the beach but to no avail. Noises from the brush grow ever louder and stranger, though I fear I must face whatever awaits me therein or starve to death. Hunger and scurvy have driven me to near-delirium, I awake cold and sweaty from fevered dream of J.R. Smith creating efficient offense for himself and his teammates, defending with vigor, emerging as the third most important player on a 7-1 NBA team. The madness shall not claim me — I shall live by this island’s bounty and return to you, Maisy, or I shall die bravely facing its horrors.

Kurt Thomas, PF DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | PTS |

Probably has to be either him or Camby unless someone gets injured. Today it was Camby. Maybe they can each play about half the games and stay fresh.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Thought this was a game that the Knicks needed to put their stamp on to nip any concerns that the Memphis loss may have exposed some fundamental flaw in their team construction. Despite sloppy shooting, I thought they generally succeeded to this end. David West had an efficient game but was confined to a minor role in the offense (10 shots in 34 minutes) thanks to Chandler’s one-man zone defense and Melo’s willingness to front him and ball-deny. Super-sized frontlines like those in Memphis and (to some extent) San Antonio are a bad matchup for the Knicks preferred lineup and probably will be all year. But that doesn’t mean any team with a post threat can exploit them (witness West’s low usage and the ongoing disaster that was Roy Hibbert’s afternoon) and I thought it was important for them to state that resoundingly today. Mission accomplished.
  2. Corollary to #1: just because Tony Parker and Mike Conley can get into the lane at will doesn’t mean your perimeter defense isn’t good. Paul George, George Hill, and Lance Stephenson were a combined 4/16 on two-point attempts in this game; Hill attempted only one shot in the paint. The early scouting report on the Knicks defense is that their perimeter switching and interior ball denial is good and that the best way to beat them is with a super-quick dribble penetrator and/or a strong, skilled post presence that can receive the ball high and muscle his way toward the basket. To that end, the Spurs/Grizzlies back-to-back might have been the single most difficult test their defense will face all year. And they went 1-1.
  3. The Knicks most effective offensive weapon last year — especially evident during Linsanity but also one of the bright spots of Douglistlessness — was any set that started with Chandler setting a high screen and diving to the rim. This maneuver had been mostly invisible to start this season, even as the Knicks sprinted to a 6-1 record. It was back today, producing it’s trademark blend of easy finishes, fouls, and shooters abandoned by collapsing defenders. That’s good. If they can implement it effectively with Carmelo or JR Smith as the ball-handler and Novak lurking in the shadows? That’s scary.
  4. The Knicks had a major offensive lull in the second quarter when they went away from the Felton-Kidd-Brewer-Melo-Chandler lineup in favor of a bigger look. Right now, most iterations of the big lineup only score when ‘Sheed is hot and the opposition’s respect for his outside shot is creating space for Felton/Prigioni/Melo/whoever to penetrate. When he’s cold it gets stilted and ineffective. Through 8 games, this looks like the biggest area that a healthy Amar’e might be able to really help out.
  5. The final point is the most important. The Knicks’ starting lineup (Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler) was on the court together for 15 minutes today (tip-off until 8:48 of the first quarter; 5:39 of the second quarter until halftime; start of the third quarter until 5:58 of the third quarter). In those 15 minutes, each team had 27 possessions on which the Knicks scored 40 points (1.48 per possession) and the Pacers scored 24 (0.89 per possession). This is astonishingly good but basically an exaggeration of what they’ve done all year so far (1.18 per possession, 0.90 allowed per possession coming into today). That’s not simply great, it’s cartoonish. It’s happened against champions and also-rans, contenders and minnows. It’s happened against big teams and small. It’s happened at home and on the road.

    It’s real.

    I hope Amar’e and Shumpert come back. I hope they play great and serve to add two more elements to a team whose depth and diversity has been it’s most endearing feature. I couldn’t care less who is on the court when the game starts and I care only marginally more who is on the court when it ends. But if that lineup — those five players who have played against other teams’ starting lineups and absolutely trounced them — does not spend a significant portion of every game in which they are all healthy on the court together, then I simply have no idea what we’re even trying to do here.

Preseason Thoughts

Sitting here on Christmas Eve – 24 hours before the Knicks tip off their season – my thoughts fluctuate between excitement, anxiousness, and fear – excited at the chances of a Championship, anxious from the lockout, and fearful of injuries. Here are my final thoughts (and feel-good YouTube clips) before the Knicks dive headfirst into 2011-2012.

STAT has been too passive thus far. Since ‘Melo joined the team, Amar’e hasn’t been the same. In the first half of last season, he would dominate teams in and out of the paint on the offensive end. Now, the offense moves completely through Anthony and he gets every big shot. Amar’e shoots a better TS% and eFG than Carmelo, and needs to be given the ball more in clutch situations – otherwise he will never regain the confidence a team leader needs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C93i_KFetdw

Toney Douglas looks just as he did last year, if not worse. This must be pretty evident to the Knicks front office as well. Iman has started practicing with the first team, and Baron Davis is the plan at point guard in the near future. Toney just does not have a high basketball IQ. He has a ton of raw talent and plenty of athleticism, but besides a few streaks of three pointers, his play has been uninspiring. He seems wholly unsure on offense and a bit slow on defense. I like him as a backup two – able to handle the ball well and provide some scoring. Let’s hope he can do this again – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2jvQvNiegs

– The Knicks’ defense is above average and Tyson is the main reason.  In the second preseason game against the Nets, Chandler personally altered about five or six shots in the paint – all misses. Most games the team lost last year were only by a few points. If Chandler can save 6-10 points a game, New York’s record could dramatically improve. I don’t think they have a top-ten defense, but I think the Knicks will finish top 15 (last year 21st) in defensive efficiency – good enough to contend for a title. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nm4pXT0ar8E

Carmelo Anthony at PG may be the best option right now. Until Davis is healthy or Douglas can pass, I don’t see many other choices. His ball handling is great; he draws the double team constantly, and is able to find the open man. He also can pull up from three. The only issue is he will be outmatched in speed, so he couldn’t drive by opposing point guards.  Still, he could play a point forward position, and matchup with other small forwards. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7k8R-Yei_Y

Iman Shumpert has a real shot at being legit. He is confident, aggressive, and fundamentally sound. His ball-handling is great, his shooting form is excellent, and his defense, with some work, could eventually stop anyone in this league.  I think his ceiling is a solid, all-around All-Star who can deliver about 18pts and 6asts per game – a far-shot from the disgust expressed by many when we first drafted him. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWBZaajteXU

Balkman and Harrellson deserve a shot. Both provided quality hustle minutes off the bench, and didn’t make too many mistakes. Josh missed a few shots, but that’s to be expected. Balkman was scoring easily and grabbing a bunch of boards. I expect each to get maybe 5 or 10 minutes off the bench for at least the first few games. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9NPhWY664Q

– Overall I predict great improvement with room left to perfect the chemistry. I think this squad can ultimately win a Championship. This year, the Knicks go 38 – 28 and make it to the second round of the playoffs. Happy holidays and a healthy New Year!

Marcin Gortat Is Not Jerome James

Marc Berman of the Post says New York has an interest in signing Marcin Gortat with their Mid Level Exception. I would expect some Knick fans to have flashbacks to the summer of 2005, when the team signed Jerome James. But I think Gortat is miles away from James.

Player Year   G  FGA FTA  FT% ORB DRB  TRB AST STL BLK TOV  PF  PTS  TS% eFG%
Gortat 2009  69  8.8 2.1 .583 4.5 8.5 13.1 0.7 0.8 2.3 1.2 5.0 11.2 57.3 56.3
 James 2005 268 10.0 2.9 .617 2.9 5.3  8.3 0.9 0.7 3.0 2.9 7.2 11.6 51.7 49.3  	

On the surface they are both defensive minded 7 footers coming off extended playoff runs. Neither player was a main cog in their team’s success (James averaged 16.6 mpg, Gortat 12.6), and neither could hit their free throws. But Gortat distinguishes himself from James in a few key areas. Marcin snared 13.1 boards per 36 minutes to Jerome’s 8.3, a remarkable difference. And although he scores at about the same rate, he’s superior in regards to efficiency (TS%: 57.3 to 51.7%) and turns the ball over less than half the time (TO/36: 1.2 to 2.9). Gortat would also be 5 years younger than James was, and at 25 years of age is just entering his prime. And if you’re worried about his propensity to eat snacks, Gortat’s father was an Olympic boxer (two time bronze medalist) so he probably knows a thing about nutrition.

Even if you attribute Gortat’s numbers to low minute count (he has yet to play 1000 minutes in the league) and Orlando’s success (playing with Lewis, Turkoglu, etc open the floor) and adjust them downward, he still projects to an above average starting center. Trying to find similar players yields few results. One attempt picked up Tree Rollins, Tyson Chandler, and Andrew Bynum. Not bad company at all. Marcin could be a steal for the Knicks, but they have to be mindful of their cap. Unless they move Lee, Curry, Robinson, or Jeffries, the team can’t afford to sign the young center without ruining their free agent chances in 2010.

Over/Under: Hasheem Thabeet 10 PPG

I can’t take credit for this idea, as it originally was a question on Pardon the Interruption. However I’d like to add a twist on it. The original question was whether Thabeet would average 10 points per game over his career. Instead my question is “Will Thabeet have an average of 10 ppg over his first three seasons?” In other words if his career ended after 3 seasons, would his career scoring average be over or under 10 points per game?

To compare with other defensive minded centers, Dikembe Mutombo managed to average 10+ ppg in each of his first 11 seasons. And Muresan just beat the mark at 10.5 ppg. On the other hand, Theo Ratliff wouldn’t reach that number until his 4th season. This was partly due to his low minute count, since he only managed 21.6 minutes per game in his first three years. Meanwhile Tyson Chandler has only reached 10+ ppg once in his career. And Greg Oden has barely played his first two years.

Really this is a question with two components. The first is that Thabeet gets enough minutes per game to reach the mark. Considering that he’s likely to be a top 3 pick, being able to get the playing time shouldn’t be an issue. The second is whether or not Thabeet’s offense will be good enough at the NBA level. To answer yes, you have to believe in both.

{democracy:28}

Curry To Go

With the Knicks finally poised for considerable salary cap space in 2010-11, the LeBron James countdown has officially begun. More than a year and a half before it’s possible, New York is already salivating at the chance to welcome James to the fold. But it’s no foregone conclusion that The King will join the Knicks. James says championship contention is his top priority, and we should take his word for it. If that’s the case, the Knicks have a long way to go to before they can secure James. Building a championship level supporting cast will be a difficult journey. And it’s one that must begin with the trade of Eddy Curry.

The Knicks will be expected to lure a second superstar to play sidekick to James. According to current salary commitments, the Knicks will have enough room under the cap to offer two free agents the max if they don’t re-up their current core of young players–Nate Robinson, David Lee–and pick up the team options on Wilson Chandler ($2.1M) and Danilo Gallinari ($3.3M). To keep their youngsters, and still sign two max FA’s, the Knicks must unload Eddy Curry’s contract ($11.2M) without taking on 2010-2011 dollars.

Curry has his flaws, but due mostly (or exclusively, really) to his scoring talents, he’s still an above average center in a league that starts Udonis Haslem, Zaza Pachulia, and Robert Swift at the pivot. Curry’s not playing right now, so a trade is highly unlikely. But we can dream of the day the Knicks’ league-leading pace will artificially inflate his per game numbers. Better yet, we can speculate on how exactly to get rid of him.

Mr. Curry to the Courtesy Phone
For the sake of argument, I’m assuming that teams that would want a player like Curry are in need of: (a) bench/low post scoring; (b) big man depth; (c) are playoff bound in 2008-09; (d) and won’t have cap space in 2010 anyway.

Also, for the sake of argument, I’m assuming that the Knicks are literally willing to give Curry away. If I were Donnie Walsh, I’d trade Curry for a sack of potatoes, as long as the tubers’ contract expired on July 1st, 2010. Of course, the Knicks could get lucky and find a team that’s willing to trade an unprotected first round pick for Curry, but for that to happen, they’d probably have to trade Isiah Thomas to the Clippers first.

None of the following deals are likely, but to prevent the absurd, I’ve omitted possible trades to teams like Chicago and Milwaukee that may need a player with Eddy Curry’s skill set, but don’t want Eddy Curry.

CHARLOTTE Nazr Mohammed & Adam Morrison for Eddy Curry
Off-court, Charlotte would prefer to unload Gerald Wallace’s contract. On-court, they need a center to move Emeka Okafor back to his more natural power forward position. Okafor’s defense can cover for Curry’s lapses, and vice versa. They’d be great platoon partners.

Charlotte won‘t make the playoffs this year, but they are looking to reorganize their team. Various rumors suggest they’re ready to give up on Morrison, and could use Curry’s scoring instead. The salaries match, but Nazr has 2010 money on the books, so the Knicks would only save about $4 million. The Knicks would decline Morrison’s option and renounce his rights.

With Nazr for Curry, they’d have an easier salary to unload in the off-season, and that $4 million in savings can help off-set the salary commitment for their 2009 first round draft pick.

NEW ORLEARNS Mike James & Hilton Armstrong for Eddy Curry
The Hornets are getting absolutely nothing out of James and Armstrong, with the former losing his rotation spot to Devin Brown and the latter doing his best impression of a lamp-post fifteen minutes a game. With front court depth a major issue heading into the post-season, the Hornets could jettison two players who don’t contribute for a third big man who can provide scoring punch when Tyson Chandler or David West take their breathers.

Curry has always been an embarrassingly bad rebounder, so it may come as a surprise that he could actually help the Hornets in that regard. Believe it or not, his career rebound rate is slightly superior to Armstrong’s. And Curry would do it while scoring twice as much. We focus on Curry’s flaws so often, we often forget how many teams play total stiffs just by virtue of them being the tallest guy in the gym.

The Hornets are playoff bound and will need some help to get past the Lakers. Curry doesn’t come cheap, but one wonders if they’d be willing to roll the dice with the man-child, picking him up to provide the front-court depth and second-team scoring they so desperately need.

DENVER Steven Hunter and Chucky Atkins for Eddy Curry
Like the Hornets, the Nuggets can trade two players who have spent most of the year in business suits for a productive big man. Considering they’ve played Renaldo Balkman at the pivot, they could use a center that puts the ball in the basket.

Hunter and Atkins come to the Knicks for blatant salary implications, while Denver gets another scorer. In fact, with Denver’s trade exemptions, they could acquire Curry without giving anything more than a 2nd round draft pick in return. But considering that Denver is reluctant to pay the luxury tax, the Knick could do them the favor of taking back some monetary flotsam in return.

Playing the Field
There are other deals that make less sense. Would Dallas trade Jerry Stackhouse and Antoine Wright for Curry? It would help their bench scoring, but eat up their 2010 salary cap flexibility. Maybe Atlanta could unload two unproductive point guards in Speedy Claxton and Acie Law for Curry. Washington could trade the Knicks two centers who don’t even play: Etan Thomas and Darius Songalia. But stuck in the Eastern Conference basement, and with a pair of intriguing, young bigs, would they bother? Would Sacramento shuffle about salaries, getting Shareef-Abdur Rahim and Mikki Moore off the books for Curry?

Knicks fans are dreaming of bringing James to New York in 2010. But unless the Knicks can unload Curry’s contract before then, it’s unlikely they’ll be in position to assemble the championship-level supporting cast James demands. Considering the cost of Curry, the Knicks will have to get creative to clear him in time for what could be a very special summer.