The Melozoic Era, Statistically Speaking

When it comes to the Melo trade, there’s probably one thing everyone can agree on: the on-court results are a mixed bag. A thrilling win over Miami, blowout wins over New Orleans and Utah and a tough road loss to the Magic, but also a pair of embarrassing defeats to Cleveland and the latest stinkers against Dallas and Indiana.

At 6-6, the Knicks of the Melozoic Era (kudos to Jim Cavan for coining the phrase) have a worse record than the previous version. Subjectively, they’re disjointed and inconsistent. They’re not sharing the ball. They clamp down on D… except when they don’t. Is it a few problems, or a lot of them?

As usual,  the numbers clear up the picture.

Pace Rank Offensive Efficiency Rank Defensive Efficiency Rank
Pre-Melo Knicks 98.7 2 107.6 9 107.1 24
Melozoic Knicks 97.0 7 111.5 1 110.0 30

As Mike D’Antoni has modified his beloved SSOL scheme, the Knicks have turned – ironically – into a parody of a Mike D’Antoni team: all O, no D.

Some common complaints are unwarranted. The Knicks may or may not be uglier to watch, or more selfish, but there’s not much to complain about when they have the ball. Since the trade, their offense is the best in the league.

On the other end of the court – peeeeee-uw.  I can hear it now:  “Can you imagine how bad they’d be without DPOY candidate Jared Jeffries?”

The picture is muddied by Chauncey Billups missing five of the 12 games, but if anything a healthy Billups should make the trends stronger. Billups is one of the most efficient offensive players in the league, but the Knicks D isn’t much helped by his taking minutes from Toney Douglas.

None of this is shocking, but the effect has been more dramatic than most expected. Were Chandler, Gallinari and Felton that good on the defensive side? Is Melo that bad? Is it just a lack of practice time?

Quibble if you must over whether Renaldo Balkman deserves some burn, but D’Antoni has already thrown solid minutes to Jeffries and even Anthony Carter. It’s hard to envision big improvements through different personnel. A healthy Ronny Turiaf would help, but unless the Knicks find something to reverse their defensive collapse, the first round playoff series is likely to be short.

A note on the details: as I started doing the math, I discovered that different sources count posssessions differently, which – obviously – affects the efficiency numbers. I went with posession totals from Hoopdata, which gave me final calculations almost identical to ESPN and John Hollinger. That let me compare apples to apples in the rankings. If you see a slight difference – a tenth of a percentage point or two – blame it on the possession data. Here’s a game-by-game chart: Knicks 2010-2011 game log . You can see how bizarre an outlier was our latest Miami win.

Can We Do Two? (Or, “Where’s My Cap At?”)

Drumroll please…

This is what the Knicks cap situation looks like for the long-awaited “Summer of LeBron,” going into the 2010-2011 season. Only four players are under contract.

Player 2010-2011
Curry 11,276,863
Gallinari 3,304,560
Chandler 2,130,481
Douglas 1,071,000
roster charge* 2,841,624

Committed salary: $20.62 million.

If the Knicks want truly max cap space, they could let every other player – from Bill Walker on up to David Lee – walk away for nothing. However, until those players are “renounced,” they continue to take up cap space. For most veterans, the “cap hold” is 150% of their most recent salary. For “non-Bird” free agents, i.e. those who just got traded, like Eddie House, it’s 120%.

McGrady 34,859,342
Harrington 15,040,313
Lee 10,500,000
Duhon 9,047,700
House 3,434,400
Bender 895,907

The Knicks also have two players with team options, JR Giddens and Bill Walker. Their contracts include a set price for picking up the option.

Giddens 1,100,640
Walker 854,389

Finally, Sergio Rodriguez is a restricted free agent.

Rodriguez 2,805,888

Like Nate Robinson and David Lee last summer, the Knicks can keep Rodriguez by making a qualifying offer — in Rodriguez’ case, $2.8 million. Or, as they did with Lee and Robinson, they could cut a deal for more. Ted Nelson suggests that Rodriguez has more bargaining power than most restricted free agents, since he could probably play in Spain, tax-free, for $5 million or more.  Of course, he may want to stay on the New York stage, even if it means accepting less money.

Where will the cap fall? It depends on who you ask, but bet on a number between $51 million and $56 million. A maximum starting salary is 30% of the cap, or in the $15-17 million range. In other words, the Knicks COULD probably sign two max free agents – if they’re willing to renounce David Lee, and fill out the roster with minimum salary guys. Or, they could sign LeBron James, give $9 million to Lee and have $6-8 million left for additional free agents, or to absorb salary in trades.

Another number to keep in mind: players are allowed annual raises of 10.5%.  The Knicks could start Lee at $8 million, and by including maximum raises, make it a 6-year deal for a total of $60.6 million.  Teams signing other teams’ free agents are only allowed to make a 5-year offer.

Let the arguments begin!

*For the roster charge, I used (6 x the rookie minimum of $473,604). By league rules, the Knicks must carry at least 12 players on the roster, so technically, with only 4 under contract, the roster charge going into the offseason is 8 x $473,604  (or $3.8 million).  However, for every free agent we sign, the roster charge goes down by one player. What we’re really trying to figure out is: can the Knicks sign LeBron James and Dwyane Wade? To do that math, we only need figure on 6 remaining roster slots.

— additional design and inspiration by Thomas B.

Pre-Draft Knicks Cap Update

My last salary cap summary, at the trade deadline, assumed a $59 million cap in 2010-2011, which is probably high given recent news reports. On the other hand, I overestimated the mid-level exception which will be Nate’s salary in all likelihood,  and Chandler’s the year after. I tweaked those.

If the Knicks re-sign Lee and Robinson, they’ll have about $15 million in cap room next summer. Less, if we buy an extra pick, or sign any free agent who’s not a rookie. So, $12-15 million. In other words, someone has to go if the Knicks want to max out one free agent, much less two. The recently floated Memphis deal, swapping Chandler and the #8 pick for the #2 pick (Rubio) along with Milic and Jaric, would reduce that to around $7 million. Obviously, we could move Nate, Lee, Jeffries or Curry, but there’s a good chance that Rubio essentially comes in place of a major FA. I think he’s worth it, but it’s a big decision.

The following year, 2011-2012, the proposed trade actually saves cap space. Even without other moves, the Knicks would have around $35 million free to augment a core of Rubio, Lee, Gallinari and Nate.

Obviously, this could go a lot of different directions. Anything that moves Curry’s or Jeffries’ contract would open a world of free agent options. It might be possible in a trade moving down from the 8 spot, instead of moving up to land Rubio.

But in general, the Knicks are already in a tight spot re: free agents, which is why I prefer a strategy of looking for trades and extra assets, rather than banking on an all-or-nothing LeBron strategy.

2010-2011 (summer of 2010)

  • Eddy Curry                     11,276,863
  • David Lee                         9,000,000 (est)
  • Jared Jeffries                    6,883,800
  • Nate Robinson                 5,500,000 (est)
  • Wilson Chandler              2,130,482
  • Danilo Gallinari                3,304,560
  • 2009 #8 pick                     2,224,600
  • 5 roster fillers                  2,368,020 (absolute minimum – 5 rookie FAs, paid the minimum)

total:                $42,688,325
projected cap:   58,000,000

2011-2012 (summer of 2011)

  • David Lee                          9,500,000 (est)
  • Nate Robinson                  5,500,000 (est)
  • Wilson Chandler               5,600,000 (est)
  • Danilo Gallinari                4,190,182
  • 2009 #8 pick                    2,379,800
  • 2011 1st rounder             1,170,000 (est # 20)
  • 6 roster-fillers                 2,841,624  (6 rookie FAs – absolute minimum)

total:                             $31,181,606
projected cap                  59,000,000

*all numbers from ShamSports

David Falk Warns of Two-Year Lockout

Not to overload the forum with new topics, but I thought today’s New York Times piece is juicy reading. Semi-retired superagent David Falk predicts an imminent clash between players and owners in which the players union will be trampled, with a good chance of an extended lockout.

Key points, plucked from Falk’s new book. “The Bald Truth”:

– The salary cap, already reported to be inching down this summer, will be down significantly for 2010-2011 (he predicts)

 – When the current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2011, David Stern will push for a hard cap, shorter contracts, a higher age limit and an end to the mid-level exception — and will get his wishes.

– Owners are prepared to stem operating losses by locking out players for two years if they resist stricter cap rules.

– Falk thinks run of the mill players are paid too much and superstars are paid too little. He thinks the cap should (and might be) abolished for stars.

From a strict basketball perspective, this last point is most interesting. Is a $20 million player worth four times as much as a $5 million player, or 10 times as much? Or only twice as much? My initial reaction was that superstars are overrated… but on reflection, I would say they are not, that there SHOULD be a huge disparity in what players are paid. It’s just that the conventional wisdom on which players are stars or superstars, is often wrong.

On the others, Falk could be accused of being alarmist, in the interest of getting attention for his book tour. But no one is better connected, and none of what he suggests is farfetched.

Trade Deadline Math

Barely a week before the February 19th trade deadline, the Knicks are keeping a low profile.  Even though the team sits just 2 1/2 games out of a playoff spot, Donnie Walsh almost certainly won’t be bringing in reinforcements for the stretch run.  In fact, the biggest speculation is over whether he’ll trade his best player for a draft pick.  By all accounts, Walsh’s primary goal is to clear cap space in 2010.  This is an update on where that stands.

A few things have combined to squeeze the Knicks’ options. One is the strong play of David Lee and Nate Robinson, which has likely made their extensions more expensive.  Another is the collapsing economy. More teams than ever are desperately looking to dump salary, which makes moving Eddy Curry or Jared Jeffries more of a pipe dream than ever.  And it gets worse.  Looking down the road, the salary cap has risen by $2-3 million each of the past two years, but some forecasters now predict it will stay flat or shrink.  The headline here is that if the Knicks extend both Lee and Robinson, they may not have enough cap room for even one max free agent, much less two.  Good as he’s been, that’s an argument for trading Robinson. However, even at a $6.5 million contract, he’s probably tradeable next year, so it’s not a make-or-break decision.

You can also see why it’s likely that the Knicks will try to move Harringon, Q and even Duhon – if not now, then by the 2010 trade deadline. When their contracts end in 2010, they linger as “cap holds” until the Knicks re-sign them or formally renounce them. Duhon’s cap hold, the smallest of the three, would still take up $7.8 million of that cap space.  On the other hand, as trade chips, each of those guys could be worth a (late) first-round pick, although those rookie contracts would take up a few million dollars of cap room.

So… here goes. Since the last overview, I’ve modified my cap forecast, and my guesstimate on the cost of extending Lee & Robinson.  Keep in mind that the Knicks can offer Lee a 6-year, $60 million contract by starting the deal around $8.5 millon and including maximum annual raises. I’m now projecting that the cap will stay flat this year, and grow by $1 million each of the following years.  All this math involves a lot of estimates and guesswork.  It also assumes that we don’t sign any new players between now and 2010.  No mid-levels!  These rosters include 12 players; that assumes we would reach the 13-player minimum by signing a (star) free agent. To find more cap space, our options include renouncing Lee and/or Robinson, trading them for picks or shorter contracts, trading Curry or Jeffries for players with shorter contracts or trading away the 2009 draft pick.

2010-2011 (summer of 2010)

  • Eddy Curry                     11,276,863
  • David Lee                         9,000,000 (est)
  • Jared Jeffries                    6,883,800
  • Nate Robinson                 6,500,000 (est)
  • Wilson Chandler              2,130,482
  • Danilo Gallinari                3,304,560
  • 2009 1st rounder             1,845,400  (at current #11)
  • 5 roster fillers                  2,368,020 (absolute minimum – 5 rookie FAs, paid the minimum)

total:       $43,309,125

2011-2012 (summer of 2011)

  • David Lee                          9,500,000 (est)
  • Nate Robinson                  6,500,000 (est)
  • Wilson Chandler               6,500,000 (est)
  • Danilo Gallinari                4,190,182
  • 2009 1st rounder             1,974,200  (est #11)
  • 2011 1st rounder             1,100,000 (est # 20)
  • 6 roster-fillers                 2,841,624  (6 rookie FAs – absolute minimum)

total:                             $29,606,006
projected cap                  60,000,000

*all numbers from ShamSports


Marbury to Greece?

ESPN’s Chris Sheridan reports that the Greek club Olympiakos has reached out to the Knicks to discuss a possible buyout for Stephon Marbury. No way to guess how serious the talks might be, but Olympiakos is a serious player — this is the club that signed Josh Childress to a $10 million deal last summer. According to Sheridan, Marbury is aware of the interest but has not spoken to anyone from the Greek team.

If Sheridan’s article is accurate, one can guess that the two clubs and the player are discussing a deal that would guarantee Marbury a certain salary, to make up anything he gives up in a buyout.  Olympiakos might be extra-motivated because Childress, the team star, underwent surgery this week for an abdominal tear.  He’s expected to be out somewhere between 3 and 8 weeks.

On the other hand, Donnie Walsh seems dead-set on exploring trade possibilities for Marbury, right up to the Feb. 19 deadline.  It seems unlikely that a buyout would happen before then, but I suppose Olympiakos could try and push him, by offering Marbury a big chunk of money – saving the money for Walsh and Jimmy Dolan. 

Marbury has publicly offered to give up $1 million in salary, in a buyout.  He’s also expressed interest in joining the Celtics, so he probably would consider Olympiakos a backup plan, at best.  However, the Knicks have some leverage, because if they refuse to cut Marbury loose by March 1, he won’t be allowed on any other team’s playoff roster.

Show Me the $$$$$

Today’s big moves – if the Randolph report is a real deal — are all about money, specifically cap room in 2010.  Again assuming that Randolph is moving to LA in the reported trade, the Knicks can now re-sign David Lee and Nate Robinson and still have about $17 million in cap room that summer. The trades have the side benefit of making us worse in the short-term, improving our 2009 draft prospects.

The roster below includes extensions for Lee and Robinson. The salaries are just educated guesses.  To find more cap room, we could renounce those two players, trade Curry or Jeffries for players with shorter contracts, or trade away the 2009 draft pick.

I’ll take a more detailed look later on.. but here is the quick and dirty update on our cap situation. The math involves a lot of estimates and guesswork. It also assumes that we don’t sign any new players between now and 2010.  No mid-levels!  The projected cap room just assumes the cap will grow by approximately $2 million each year; it’s done that pretty consistently. It’s a good bet the 2010-2011 cap will be between $60 and $65 million.

2010-2011 (summer of 2010)

  • Eddy Curry                     11,276,863
  • David Lee                         8,000,000 (est)
  • Jared Jeffries                    6,883,800
  • Nate Robinson                 5,000,000 (est)
  • Wilson Chandler              2,130,482
  • Danilo Gallinari                2,753,800
  • 2009 1st rounder             2,600,000  (est #7)

total:                             $38,644,945 + 8 roster-fillers
projected cap                62,000,000

*all numbers from ShamSports