Isiah OD?

No joke…

Isiah Thomas was apparently taken from his home in an ambulance last night, after a bout of weirdness that involved feeling faint because of a stressful family situation, or an overdose of sleeping pills. Depends who you believe.  Talking heads from the police, hospital and the Knicks are playing it close to the vest, but the Daily News quotes Thomas’ son as saying his father was briefly hospitalized. 

This was first reported by local TV news, and there is now a much more detailed article posted by ESPN’s True Hoopster.

Developing….

Growing Ref Scandal

The Tim Donaghy story goes on: drip, drip, drip. I’m a skeptic by nature, an anti-conspiracy theorist. It’s easy to believe that a ref with a gambling problem decided to shade the games he worked; it’s hard to believe he was part of a complex conspiracy – given how hard it is to keep a secret — and even harder to think that the NBA office would be so stupid as to try to cover up said conspiracy. Disgraced ref Donaghy has made some wild allegations, but without corroborating evidence, his credibility is low.  And yet there’s a story out today that’s making me think twice.  

According to Fox News, court documents show that Donaghy made 134 phone calls to fellow ref Steve Foster between October 2006 and April 2007, a period in which he was betting on games. According to the report, most of the calls were short and came before or after games that have been called into question.  Now, that’s a lot of calls — almost daily, on average. The only person Donaghy called more often was the guy who placed bets for him. 

Fox reported that Foster says he knows of no investigation. The NBA put out a lame statement: “The government has said that they have found no evidence of criminal conduct aside from that of Mr. Donaghy. Once again, the only criminal conduct is that of Mr. Donaghy.”

More details here and here

Jon Abbey is looking more and more like his gravatar, by the second.’

Daring to Dream

It’s a big day on the NBA calendar: the official salary cap for the 2008-2009 season was announced ($58,680,000) and it’s the first day free agents can officially sign contracts. The biggest news is Elton Brand spurning the Clippers and his friend Baron Davis, apparently agreeing to a 5-year, $82 million contract with Philadelphia. The Warriors are reportedly signing Corey Maggette to a 5-year, $50 million deal. Most important — at least to Knicks fans — Brand’s move may create an opening to move Zach Randolph.

Randolph won’t be anyone’s first choice. But if you want to take a glass half-full attitude, the Clippers and Warriors have significant cap room, fantasies of competing for the playoffs, a hole at power forward and — very possibly — no one to take their money in free agency. Assuming the Davis and Maggette reports are accurate, the Clippers have $14 million in cap space left, while the Warriors have about $17 million. As far as unrestricted free agents — forget it. The best one left is James Posey, then it’s guys like Ricky Davis and Brent Barry. The plum prizes are restricted, meaning their teams can match any offer. Still, when big offers start flying, it’s no surprise when someone flinches. Here are five guys who could wreck our Randolph plans — in order of likelihood that they’ll sign with Clippers or Warriors.

Emeka Okafor — There’s been almost no news from Charlotte, but Okafor was uninterested in an offer starting at $12-13 million a year, and 10 days ago Michael Jordan was grumbling to the papers. Given Okafor’s injury history and the signs of bad blood, I won’t be surprised to see him walk if the Warriors (or Clippers) make an offer starting around $13 million. Still, as of now, the Warriors reported top choice is…

Josh Smith — Smith is a thrill to watch, Atlanta’s star gate attraction and still just 22 years old. He’s also clashed with his coaches and has plenty of holes in his game. The Hawks keep saying they’ll match any offer, but the owners are notoriously cheap. It would be a public relations disaster not to match… but if the Warriors make a huge offer, the Hawks might throw in the towel. Channeling my inner Sam Smith, the Hawks could also look at trade options. Utah or Miami might take Smith for Carlos Boozer or Shawn Marion; that would give the Hawks a short-term upgrade and massive cap room next summer. The Hawks also need money to pay…

Josh Childress — No star power, but stat-heads know him as an extremely efficient offensive player, a good rebounder for a guard and a solid defender. I doubt the Hawks will let Smith AND Childress walk, but if they pony up for Smith, I don’t think they’ll pay more than the mid-level ($5.58 million) for their 6th man. On the other hand, I don’t know if the Clips or Warriors will make him an offer.

Andre Iguodala — Iggy is far less likely to move than these others. With Brand in town, the 76ers think they can make a title run with their current lineup, and they may be right. Still, if offers for Iguodala hit the $14 million range, the Sixers might look at trade options, for a more traditional shooter/scorer. Michael Redd and Tracy McGrady spring to mind. More likely to happen in February, if at all.

Luol Deng — Since the Bulls wouldn’t trade him for Kobe, they’ll be matching offers. That’s going to dog this guy for the rest of his career.

Also worry about…

Ben Gordon — Now here’s a restricted free agent with a good chance of moving. Yeah, he’s a two-guard, but it matters to our Randolph hopes because the Bulls might decide to move Hinrich instead, in a reported trade for Al Harrington. With Harrington out of the picture, the Warriors would have to take on Zach’s full salary — making it an even longer shot.

Andris Biedrins — It’s assumed the Warriors will sign him to an extension, but if you hear they’re having second thoughts, it means they’re trying to save money for a run at one of the other guys.

Addition By Subtraction?

Here in Georgia, we’ve struggled with drought for several years. Last fall, folks with lakefront lots on Lake Lanier saw their boats sitting on mud flats, and Atlanta was down to its last 60 days of water.  Governor Sonny Perdue decided to organize a prayer circle and pray for rain. (He also sued Florida and Alabama). A few hours after the group prayer on the steps of the state Capitol, the clouds burst and Lo! there was rain. What does this have to do with basketball? Well, the Knicks have gone through a long drought….

But I promised to talk about “addition by subtraction.” Posters offered: 1) trading Stephon Marbury for Jason Kidd; 2)  trading Marbury for Steve Nash; 3) trading Zach Randolph for Steve Francis & Channing Frye; 4) trading Isaiah Rider for Sean Rooks & change; 5) trading Dennis Rodman for Will Perdue; 6) Firing John McLeod (!) and  7) trading Allen Iverson for Andre Miller.  

It’s clear that to most people, “addition by subtraction” means “trading a star player.” But usually, a player “subtracted” means others “added.” After all, Channing Frye’s mother doesn’t refer to “the Zach Randolph trade.” In some of these examples, one team did get a lot better – but the key was clearly the addition (MVP Nash, 2nd-place MVP Kidd) — NOT the subtraction.  Other examples are more complicated. The Blazers got substantially better after dumping Randolph, as did the 76ers after buying out Webber. The Sixers also improved after trading their superstar for a supposed role player. Are these examples of better chemistry? 

The year he was cut, despite a high usage rate of 23.4, Webber had a TS% of 40.9 and was one of the worst defenders in the league. Not surprisingly, his replacements were better. Randolph’s minutes were largely taken by LaMarcus Aldridge; some of his shots went to Brandon Roy. Both players are more efficient shooters than Randolph, and better defenders. Portland also got back the services of Joel Przybilla, who missed 2006-2007 due to injury. While Randolph is an excellent rebounder, Przybilla is even better – a rebound rate almost 20 percent higher. He’s also a good defender. Meanwhile, as Ted Nelson noted, even before the trade some people considered Andre Miller an equal or better player to Allen Iverson.

Which brings us to Stephon Marbury. Some suggest that the Knicks would help themselves most with a buyout, rather than letting Marbury sit on the bench or trading him. In theory, Marbury offers terrible “intangibles,” and cutting him would improve team chemistry, leading others to play better. 

Paraphrasing Dave Berri, in sportswriter-speak “intangibles” are everything but scoring, measured by points-per-game.  The Knickerblogger reader knows better.  “Intangible” just means we can’t measure it. About the only statistic for which we don’t have a pretty reliable measure, is off-the-ball defense. With that in mind – Stephon Marbury doesn’t have bad “intangibles.” He’s just a mediocre player: a slowing 31-year-old: average on offense, abominable on defense and offering little else. Four statistical ranking systems all tell the same story: a steady decline over the past three years, from a starting point either slightly above or slightly below average. 

PER: 16.52, 15.36, 13.84  (15 is average)

WP/48: .092, .070, .050  (.100 is average) 

Roland Rating: +1.5, 0.0, -4.6

Adjusted Plus/minus:  7.57, 2.88, TBD

The Knicks will defend better with Chris Duhon on the floor, and they might play better overall. But that’s not saying the team would play better with Marbury in Boston, or sitting home. Back in Georgia, Sonny Perdue thanked the powers that be for sending rain. Do you prefer a simple explanation, or the intangibles? 

p.s. The Timberwolves improved 14 games the year after trading Isiah Rider. They had several similar players take his minutes; they also gave an extra 800 minutes to Kevin Garnett and replaced Spud Webb with the rookie Marbury. The Spurs didn’t really improve post-Rodman until Tim Duncan arrived. 

Free Agent Roundup — Day 1

Baron Davis has reportedly agreed to a 5-year, $65 million deal with the Clippers. No offers or signings are official before July 9th, when the the league announces the final salary cap figures. Apparently it takes eight days for a team of chipmunks to work the slide rules over on Park Avenue.

Assuming a cap number in the realm of $58,130,000 – what I saw on real GM – just four teams have significant cap room.  WIthout Davis, Golden State has the most — about $24 million. However, they also need to save up to re-sign Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins. They can go over the cap to sign them, but own Chris Cohan has said he wants to avoid the luxury tax. Meanwhile, Memphis has about $15 million to spend, as do the Clippers – if they renounce rights to Corey Maggette, as expected.  Philadelphia has about $12 million in space, assuming they keep Andre Iguodala. It’s even worse, actually, for the free agents – Memphis is supposedly in money-saving mode and is not expected to break open the bank for anyone. Seattle has about $8 million to offer, while every other team is limited to the mid-level (about $6 million) or else seeking a “sign-and-trade” if they want to get in on the action. 

Disclaimer: I occasionally saw Billy Knight at a Starbucks near my office, but now that he’s been fired I have no inside line. Therefore the information here is second-hand guesswork.  

Gilbert Arenas

     Arenas is reportedly weighing “max” offers from both Washington and Golden State. Call it a toss-up. Arenas has said he wants to stay in DC, but prior to his coming East no one thought he would ever leave his home state of California. Meanwhile, the Maloof brothers reportedly said they would give up their entire roster to get Arenas to Sacramento. Unless David Stern says he’ll let the Wiz play 15 vs. 5, I don’t think it’s worth it. Seriously, though – if Arenas is set on leaving, you have to think the Wizards would consider a deal involving Kevin Martin, a bad contract and a 1st round pick. 

 Elton Brand – Unrestricted

     Brand says he wants to stay and form a dream team with Davis. He also has Hollywood roots, as a successful film producer (like the Wernor Herzog-helmed “Rescue Dawn.”)  

Corey Maggette – Unrestricted

     Expect the Clippers to renounce Maggette, in order to re-sign Brand.  Then, unless Philadelphia or Golden States wants to pay him, it looks like Maggette will be taking the mid-level. The smart money is on Orlando, where he lives in the offseason and which is reported to be ready to make an offer.

DeSagana Diop – Unrestricted

   Reports are that Dallas will bring him home, offering the full mid-level.

Josh Smith – Restricted

     Philadelphia is reportedly set to make an offer starting at $11 million a year. The Hawks have vowed to match, but Sekou Smith, the astute beat writer for the Hawks, is pessimistic.

 Emeka Okafor – Restricted

    Last year Okafor turned down an offer in the $12 million range, and no one has enough cap room to offer that much, so it’s likely he stays in Charlotte. But there are reports of discord – Michael Jordan is fuming. If the two sides don’t calm down, Charlotte might look for a place to trade their big man. 

 Monta Ellis – Restricted

     Ellis might have been in play if Baron Davis had stayed put. As things stand, there’s no way the Warriors let him leave. They’ll match any offer.

 Ben Gordon – Restricted

    There’s no clear front-runner. Actually, Gordon had such a bad year that his value may have dropped to the point where the Bulls can afford to keep him.

 Other restricted free agents like Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala and Josh Childress, are assumed to be re-signing, since their teams are likely to match any offer.

Sign and Trade

     The sign-and-trade route is more complicated. It requires a team willing to let its star walk, another team willing to make an offer and a star who actually wants to go to the new team. For example, Miami reportedly loves Brand, and Pat Riley did sign him to an offer sheet a few years back. He’s only in L.A. because the Clippers matched it. Shawn Marion probably isn’t enough, but if Riley offered Michael Beasley and salaries to match – wouldn’t the Clips at least consider it?

     Another team that hasn’t been mentioned – but maybe should – is Detroit.  Joe Dumars says he’s willing to swap any of his starting five, and says he wants to make a big splash.  Houston – with risk-taking, stat-loving GM Daryl Morey – could also be a dark horse. Tracy McGrady is an injury risk, and the team actually has a better record without Yao Ming the past two years. Either might be tradeable in the right deal. 

Eggs & Basket(ball)

Free agent season is here, along with daydreams about 2010, when LeBron James might pack a suitcase and head for Broadway. Is it realistic to think we can cut a deal? By 2010, assuming they fill out the roster with mininum-salary bench players, the Knicks need to trim about $18 million worth of payroll, to offer a free-agent even a dollar more than the mid-level.  To offer a “star” contract – call it $15 million a year – requires cuts of about $26 million. (to get there next year, it’s more like $36 million). If LeBron has his sights set on the biggest offer, bar-none, we’ll need to clear even more space.  

The simplest way to cut costs — but the hardest to accomplish – is trading big-salaried players for players with shorter (expiring) contracts. Dumping Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry could allow the Knicks to offer 2010 free agent deals worth almost $20 million.  Trading Curry, Crawford and Jeffries (for shorter contracts) would do the same. 

Another “opportunity” is to renounce our own free agents. On the rosters below, I included extensions for David Lee and Nate Robinson, and Renaldo Balkman in 2010. The salaries are just educated guesses, but we could probably “save” about $13 million by not re-signing Lee or Robinson. Combined with a Randolph trade, that would give the Knicks about $19 million in free-agent spending money. A more likely option is trading one or both for draft picks; the salary difference would still “save” $5-10 million. There’s also the option of selling off our 2009 pick. Aside from putting cash in Dolan’s pocket, it would save the team $2-3 million in cap room. If we’re pulling out all the stops, that’s something to consider.

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!  No matter what, it will require several major moves to clear cap space by the summer of 2010, and the effort might not be worth it. Gutting the roster for a *chance* to sign LeBron or D-Wade looks a bit like an unshaven guy at the tables, at 4am, laying it all down on Black. 

We’ll get a strong hint of Walsh’s thinking this summer. Does he sign David Lee to a big extension, or trade him? 

2009-2010

  • Zach Randolph            16,000,000
  • Eddy Curry                    10,500,423
  • Jamal Crawford               9,360,000
  • Quentin Richardson       8,700,000
  • David Lee                         8,000,000 (est)
  • Jerome James                 6,600,000
  • Jared Jeffries                   6,466,000
  • Nate Robinson                5,000,000 (est)
  • Danilo Gallinari                2,574,200
  • 2009 1st rounder              2,400,000  (est #7)
  • Renaldo Balkman            2,112,417
  • Wilson Chandler              1,255,440

total:                             $78,968,480 + 3 roster-fillers  
projected cap:              60,000,000

2010-2011

  • Zach Randolph           $17,333,333
  • Eddy Curry                     11,276,863
  • Jamal Crawford             10,080,000
  • David Lee                         8,000,000 (est)
  • Jared Jeffries                    6,883,800
  • Nate Robinson                 5,000,000 (est)
  • Renaldo Balkman            3,027,000 (cap hold)
  • Wilson Chandler              2,130,482
  • Danilo Gallinari                2,753,800
  • 2009 1st rounder             2,600,000  (est #7)

total:                             $69,085,278 + 5 roster-fillers
projected cap                62,000,000

2011-2012 

  • David Lee                          8,000,000 (est)
  • Nate Robinson                 5,000,000 (est)
  • Renaldo Balkman            4,000,000 (est)
  • Wilson Chandler              5,000,000 (est)
  • Danilo Gallinari                 3,491,820
  • 2009 1st rounder              2,800,000  (est #7)
  • 2011 1st rounder              1,700,000 (est #15)

total:                             $29,991,820 +  8 roster-fillers

*all numbers from ShamSports