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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thomas Sounding the Right Notes… So Far

The NBA offseason is slowly taking shape and the potential for mega deals involving a number of the league’s mega stars has tantalized journalists and fans alike. Admit it. You love the drama. You love the pointless diatribes about “lack of respect” and the sights and sounds of grown men acting like complete and utter fools… And that was just ESPN’s broadcast team at the draft! So you know it’s going to be a long summer.

Yet amidst the growing sound and fury Isiah Thomas’s voice has thus far been one of reason and sanity, almost conservative by comparison to last year’s whirlwind. With his lone pick in the second round (#43) he made a very nice choice, selecting Trevor Ariza out of UCLA. If you read part two of my offseason preview then you have seen his name. Ariza is something of a poor man’s Andre Igoudala, that is, a hyper-athletic wing who plays defense and contributes something in every statistical category. However, his streaky shooting may limit him to being a valuable role player. What I like about the pick is that Ariza will likely match Anderson’s current production in two seasons, if not sooner, with a much higher ceiling at a much more palatable salary. Selecting Ariza (instead of the equally athletic Missouri SG Ricky Paulding for instance) is particularly interesting because it may suggest that Thomas is laying the groundwork for an Anderson buyout.

Thomas’s made further remarks on draft night about the team’s pursuit of the top free agents:

I don’t think it will necessarily be a lot of the bigger names in the market, but there are pieces floating around that we think if we can acquire, they will make our team better.

Part of this is clearly intended to keep the expectations of the fans and the media this offseason from getting completely out of hand. However Thomas may actually be shooting straight on this one… kind of. I think he is hoping to benefit from the residuals of the proposed big deals but realizes that he has few commodities to deal himself, other than expriring contracts. For instance, should the Francis-McGrady deal go through Thomas may have interest in either Mobley or Cato, players the Magic are reported to be considering moving subsequent to any trade. The Knicks and Bulls restricted free agent guard Jamal Crawford are known to share a mutual interest, and Chicago’s selection of UConn guard Ben Gordon has certainly thrown Crawford’s status in limbo. Crawford is potentially a nice fit in New York but I suspect that Denver, where he’d have a pretty good chance at starting, will be his ultimate destination should he sign elsewhere. Today’s fishwra… err… New York Post is reporting again that the Knicks have an interest in reacquiring Michael Doleac. He did a very nice job of rebounding, blocking shots, and shooting off the screen roll last season.

The names Trevor Ariza, Jamal Crawford, and Michael Doleac may not instill fear into the hearts of opposing NBA defenses. They nonetheless inspire cautious optimism for this Knicks fan. These names say to me that perhaps at the end of year one in the Era of Zeke he has learned a most valuable lesson about front office life: a crucial part of building a good team is managing the back end of the rotation and the back end of the bench. The market virtually always allows you to get decent production at reasonable prices from players 8-12 via the draft and salary exceptions.

It’s one thing to overpay for your best player(s) but there’s rarely a reason to overpay for players 8-12. Sometimes market dynamics are such that a team simply must pay a premium to retain its best player, even if his numbers say he’s not worth it. The costs associated with acquiring and integrating a new “best” player (in terms of lost productivity/time, learning curve, permanent changes in matchups, etc.) may be too great. But, he said with index finger extended upward as if to signify an exclamation point, a team should never overpay players 8-12. Those roster spots should be filled by the likes of Trevor Ariza and Michael Doleac.

Well folks, that’s it for me. The Knicker Blogger will be back soon and I am off on a working vacation beginning Thursday through most of July. I’ll be off-line during most of that time. So I look forward to checking back in at the start of August to the fine, in-depth coverage of our beloved Knicks we have come to expect from Mike.

Peace,
dave

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