The Low Down on the Trade Down

For the past several months the majority of Knick-related discussion has centered around the draft, and who Phil Jackson should target with the franchise’s first top-five pick since 1986. With an unusually deep draft in the forecast for later this June, there has been talk that the Knicks should perhaps trade down in the draft in order to acquire future/multiple picks while still drafting one of the many promising prospects projected to go in the top fourteen spots. It is a reasonable idea in theory, given the dearth of talent on the current roster and the plethora of owed picks due to be shipped out over the next few years. However, at the same time, for a team that hasn’t had the opportunity to select a top-five prospect in almost thirty years, it seems crazy to even consider opting out of the position. But without a clear consensus on the best prospect between 4-14, trading down is an option the Knicks need to at least consider. Which leads Knick management, and their nerve-wracked fans, to ask: does precedent dictate that trading down typically works out in favor of the team dropping down, or does high draft position trump all else?

Here is the list of trade-downs involving lottery picks over the past 15 years:

2000: Chicago trades #7 (Chris Mihm) for #8 (Jamal Crawford) + cash

2000: Houston trades #9 (Joel Przybilla) for #15 (Jason Collier) + future 1st rounder (#22 pick in 2001 draft (Jeryl Sasser selected))

2001: New Jersey trades #7 (Eddie Griffin) for # 13 (Richard Jefferson) + Jason Collins and Brandon Armstrong

2003: Memphis trades #13 (Marcus Banks) + 27 (Kendrick Perkins) for #16 (Troy Bell) + #20 (Dahntay Jones)

2005: Portland trades #3 (Deron Williams) for #6 (Martell Webster) + #27 (Linus Kleiza) + 2006 1st round pick (#30 Joel Freeland)

2006: Chicago trades #2 (LaMarcus Aldridge) for #4 (Ty Thomas) + Viktor Khryapa

2006: Minnesota trades #6 (Brandon Roy) for #7 (Randy Foye)

2006: Philadelphia trades #13 (Thabo Sefolosha) for #16 (Rodney Carney) + 2007 2nd rounder (Kyrylo Fesenko selected) + cash

2008: Minnesota trades #3 (OJ Mayo) + Jaric, Walker, and Buckner for #5 (Kevin Love) + Mike Miller, Jason Collins, and Brian Cardinal

2008: Indiana trades #11 (Jerryd Bayless) + Ike Diogu for #13 (Brandon Rush) + J Jack and J McRoberts

2010: New Orleans trades #11 Cole Aldrich + Morris Peterson for #21 (Craig Brackins) and #26 (Quincy Pondexter)

2011: In a 3 way trade, Sacramento trades #7 (Bismack Biyombo) for #10 (Jimmer Fredette) + John Salmons; Milwaukee trades #10 (Jimmer Fredette) for #19 (Tobias Harris) + Stephen Jackson, Beno Udrih, and Shaun Livingston

2013: Minnesota trades #9 (Trey Burke) for #14 (Shabazz Muhammad) and #21 (Gorgui Dieng)

2013: Dallas trades #13 (Kelly Olynyk) for #16 (Lukas Nogueira) + 2 future 2nd rounders

2014: Philadelphia trades #10 (Elfrid Payton) for #12 (Dario Saric) + 2nd rounder + future 1st rounder

2014: Denver trades #11 (Doug McDermott) for #16 (Jusuf Nurkic) + #19 (Gary Harris) + future 2nd rounder

Of these 16 examples, there are two clear winners: Minnesota with the Kevin Love trade and the Nets with the Richard Jefferson trade. But at the same time, there are only two that turned out to be one-sidedly bad: Portland letting multiple All Star Deron Williams go and Chicago mis-valuing Ty Thomas over LaMarcus Aldridge.

All the other trade-downs on the list amount to lateral moves for the most part, with a few examples of teams coming out slightly richer (trading down from Jimmer Fredette to Tobias Harris and a few productive veterans was certainly a prudent move for Milwaukee in 2011, until they proceeded to ship Harris to Orlando to rent JJ Reddick). And time may still prove some of the recent trade-downs to be brilliant maneuvers by teams like Philadelphia and Denver.

But, for now, the data on trade-downs is, for the most part, inconclusive. All else being equal, it’s probably best to just draft the best player available. But in Knickland, “all else” is never equal to going all in with any given hand. They are, as usual, in a unique position of both rebuilding and trying to win a championship in the next few years, leaving it unclear how, exactly, a 19 year old fits into the team’s plans. And there are fringe advantages to be had in a salary-restricted league to save a few dollars here and there, which trading down accomplishes, or for accruing a diversity of young, cost-controlled players to round out a roster, which trading down also allows (assuming Jackson is still able to draft the player he likes best in this draft).

But there is also the risk of getting too fancy, as Minnesota apparently did in 2006 when they, supposedly had a deal in place to swap Brandon Roy with Houston, which Portland thwarted by drafting the player Minnesota wanted in the hopes of getting Roy for themselves. Minnesota was left getting nothing else in return for Brandon Roy, who went on to become rookie of the year and earn three consecutive All Star selections, leaving the Timberwolves looking unnecessarily foolish.

In the NBA, the best laid plans can go awry, as they more often than not do for the New York Knicks. And they more often than not do for the Minnesota Timberwolves too, which bears on ominous warning, for they are the franchise that attempts the Trade Down more than any other. As they now prepare to add the 3rd #1 pick in a row to their roster as custodians of the league’s worst record, that alone may be reason for Phil Jackson to steer clear of the Trade Down, and take the more conventional path of selecting the best player available and keeping him.

Jackson, the Checketts Doctrine, and the 2015 Draft

“With the 26th pick in the 1994 NBA draft, the New York Knicks select Charlie Ward from Florida State University.”

These words, spoken on June 29th, 1994 by then-commissioner David Stern, represent the end of an epoch in New York, and the beginning of a new science of roster-building. It wasn’t because the Knicks were drafting a franchise player, or even their point guard of the future. It was because from that day forward a “win now” policy was put in place, favoring older, established, and famous players in favor of youth, upside, and the unknown. Ward, drafted over 20 years ago, is the last Knick draftee to stay in New York past his rookie contract. Everybody to be drafted after him (Iman Shumpert the most recent addition to the list) has either been traded for more established assets, or simply let go for nothing.

How common is it for an NBA team to continually unload it’s young players before their rookie contacts are up? It isn’t common at all. In fact, of the 30 teams in the league, only three others currently lack a draftee on at least their second contract with the team (and of the other three teams, none go even close to as far back as 1995 to re-invest in their own “homegrown” talent). So it is an unprecedented strategy that the Knicks have married themselves to over the past twenty years. And one that history views as curious, to say the least. Every team that has experienced any long-term success in the NBA has been built at least partially via the draft. Yet the Knicks have opted to eschew building through youth completely. And it may not be much of a coincidence that over the last twenty years they own one of the worst combined records in the league.

What happened back in the mid 1990s, and why does the strategy continue today?

Despite the fact that the Knicks, as an organization, had experienced much success in the draft, selecting the rookie of the year in both 1985 and 1988 (Patrick Ewing and Mark Jackson) and a host of other long-tenured contributors (Trent Tucker, Gerald Wilkins, Kenny Walker, Greg Anthony, and Hubert Davis), a decision was made by then President of Basketball Operations Dave Checketts to enter “win now” mode. In 1997 they traded all three of their first-rounders from the year before for the marginally talented and highly-paid veterans Chris Mills and Chris Dudley. The moves were good enough to help keep the team out of the lottery for the next 4 years and even make an improbable run to the NBA finals. But then an interesting thing happened: the Knicks stopped being competitive, yet continued to shed their picks and recent draftees as if the Checkett’s Doctrine was etched in the Foundation Stone upon which Madison Square Garden was built.

For twenty years and counting, the Knicks have been trading picks like each draft would be the last. And the picks they’ve been forced to keep (by the Stepian Rule, which forbids teams from trading their 1st round pick two consecutive years) they’ve hastily found a way to move for the players they prefer: namely any older, more famous, and even more highly paid player that is available to them.

Now, in 2015, the Knicks are staring into the face of a long and painful rebuild. They have their pick, which, coming off of the team’s worst regular season performance in franchise history (17-65), is the #4 pick in the draft. It will be their first time in the lottery in six years, when they drafted Jordan Hill 8th (only to trade him eight months later for the extremely-famous-and-even-more-extremely-oversized contract of Tracy McGrady). But will they keep the pick, or will this pick simply be leveraged into a more established player to help the team get back to respectability sooner rather than later?

Possibilities

Jackson, thus far, has been both strangely candid and miserably aloof in his vision for the Knicks since taking the reigns from Layden/Thomas/Walsh/Grunwald/Mills. His biggest move as president was the re-signing of 30 year-old Carmelo Anthony to a five-year,$124,000,000. After seeing his star player lose half the season to injury, Jackson’s window to make that investment pay off is closing. With all the top prospects in the draft this year all being teenagers, it is hard to see how any of them come into the NBA and make an immediate impact. Traditionally, it takes several years for even the greatest of prospects to develop their NBA bodies and minds. Given the team’s history, and its current needs, it seems all but destined that whomever the Knicks select in this draft will only be passing through on their way to their next stop.

However, Phil Jackson, in his inaugural address last year, promised to bring about a “culture change”. This vague allusion could simply mean installing his trademark Triangle Offense and nothing more. Or, more significantly, it could mean something far more dramatic: namely the long over-due dismantling of the Checketts Doctrine, which has dictated Knicks culture for fifteen years too long now.

Because of the Stephan rule, Jackson cannot trade the pick until at least one second after it’s made (this, courtesy of Jackson’s predecessor trading the team’s 2016 pick for the somewhat-famous-yet-still-ridiculously-overpaid former #1 pick Andrea Bargnani). This, it seems, is a good thing, as even the most cynical fans will get to see Jackson’s selection, at the very least, wear a Knicks hat and smile in pictures with Commissioner Silver before being traded away.

But even if Jackson does decide to trade the player, it wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing for the long-term health of the organization.

The problem with a long-term rebuild is that the Knicks don’t own their 1st round pick in next year’s draft. (They traded it not once but twice, the first time in a swap of picks with Denver for Carmelo Anthony back in 2011, and the second time outright to Toronto for the aforementioned Andrea Bargnani). So it’s hard to sell fans, and even more importantly owner James Dolan, on a lengthy rebuild when Denver and Toronto will be reaping the benefits of any Knick suckage in 2015-16. But Jackson does have an option with the #4 pick that can help mitigate the issue: trade it for a lower 2015 pick and a 2016 first round pick.

The talent in this draft is considered to be deep, but outside of the two centers at the top of the draft, the rest of the lottery remains opaque. Picks 3-14 lack a consensus as to where the most value can be had, indicating that the teams may not be gaining or losing much if the picks were to be reshuffled. So trading down to acquire a future 1st round pick may be the best way to maximize the payoff from their historically bad 2014-15 season.

Unfortunately, trading down for a package of futures is easier said than done, as it takes a trade partner that a) covets a player in the top four of this year’s draft, and b) has picks of value to trade. As of now, there are twelve teams that have already traded their 2016 first round pick or are precluded from trading it by the Stephan rule (Brooklyn, Cleveland, Dallas, Golden State, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Heat, Thunder, Blazers, and Kings). Of the remaining 17 teams, six potentially own more than one 2016 first rounder:

Phoenix owns their own pick and Cleveland’s (protected 1-10).

Chicago owns their own pick and Sacramento’s (protected 1-10).

Toronto owns their own pick and the lesser of the Knicks and Nuggets’.

Philadelphia owns their own pick and the Lakers’ (1-3), the Heat (1-10), and the Thunder’s (1-15).

Boston owns their own pick and the Net’s (unprotected), the Mavericks’ (1-7), and the Timberwolves’ (1-12), as well as 5 2016 second round picks.

Denver owns their own pick as well as the Blazers’ (protected 1-14), Grizzlies’ (6-14 only), and the right to swap picks with the Knicks.

It is not unreasonable to think that the Celtics could be interested in repackaging their litany of picks to move up to #4 this year. They own the #16 and #33 in this years draft, and could throw in either their own pick or the unprotected Nets’ pick in 2016 along with a 2nd rounder or two. Such a trade stands to mutually benefit both teams; however, there is also the inherent risk of trading a future star to a division rival that tends to stymie these kind of transactions.

Philadelphia, with their multitude of future draft assets, is also a potential partner, but already owns the #3 pick in this year’s draft and is, like Boston, a division rival.

That leaves the intriguing prospect of dealing with the Nuggets once again, in an effort to undo some of the damage that has been lingering since 2011. Denver owns the #7 pick, but they are facing losing their current point guard (Ty Lawson), who is rumored to have mutual interest in playing for the Mavericks next year. The best PG prospects in this draft are likely to be taken with the #3 and #4 pick respectively, so it is possible that they may have significant interest in moving up from #7 (where DraftXpress has them selecting Duke swingman Justise Winslow) up to #4. And the cost of doing business with NY would, of course, include giving the Knicks the right to reverse swap picks, effectively taking back their own 2016 pick (while sending Denver’s pick to Toronto).

It will be interesting to see what ultimately becomes of the Knicks’ 2015 draft pick. If it is traded in the minutes, hours, days, or weeks after the draft for Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Al Jefferson, or Kobe Bryant, it will be clear that the Checketts Doctrine remains in effect and there will be no true culture change taking place during the Phil Jackson administration. However, if Jackson is serious about reversing course, he has more options than simply taking the best Triangle player, or the most complementary player to Carmelo Anthony, with the #4 pick. The rebuild in New York stands to be a lengthy one, but there may be opportunities this June to lay a foundation for the next decade of Knick basketball. Will Phil Jackson take the opportunity should they arise, or will the policies of presidents past continue to plague the Knicks’ future?

Is James Dolan a Hypocrite?: A by-the-numbers investigation

Remember July, 2012? The NBA Players’ Union had just won an arbitration case against the league that redefined whether players retained their “Bird” rights through the waiver process. It was a relatively trivial ruling for most of the league, but a coup for the New York Knicks, whose top two free agents, Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak, had both been claimed off waivers to start the season (and both had played their way into significant salary raises). Lin, of course, was coming off his meteoric rise to international fame, and the New York fan-base exhaled in a collective sigh that they weren’t going to lose their newest folk-hero to the draconian salary cap (since Lin was a restricted free-agent, the team could now match any offer without salary cap restraints).

Well, as it turned out, even with the ability to exceed the cap and match any offer, the Knicks opted to only sign one of their two free agents: the sweet-shooting, sour-everything-else Steve Novak.

The Knicks never stated an official reason for not matching Lin. The transaction was relayed to the press by a spokesman who stated “I can confirm we are not matching”.

And that was that. The unceremonious end of Linsantiy.

Of course, though it wasn’t stated publicly, there was obviously a reason the Knicks opted to let Lin walk to Houston, and many sought to understand how Lin, a virtual lock to return to the Knicks in the wake of the arbitration victory, was suddenly gone. Certainly the ultimate decision rested with team owner and MSG chairman James Dolan, through whom all major transactions had to pass. Stories came out that Dolan felt “betrayed” by Lin. Others reported that Carmelo Anthony, Dolan’s most prized-player, had called Lin’s contract “ridiculous”. Statements made by the neoteric JR Smith, a CAA client to whom the Knicks possibly had a silent agreement with to re-sign on the cheap side in exchange for future considerations, indicated that Lin’s contract would create jealousy amongst the other Knicks.

But the MSG spin eventually repainted it, not as a personal vendetta, but as a shrewd business move in the changing face of NBA economics. The contract, it was estimated, could cost the Knicks upwards of $28 million in taxes alone it’s final year, due to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s escalating luxury tax on high spending teams.

Effectively, a line had been drawn in the sand. James Dolan, who over a previous six year span had forked over $190,089,121 in luxury tax payments (all for an average of 31 wins/year (yes, that’s $1,016,519.64 in taxes per win!)), had reached his breaking point. The thought of paying an extra $28 million for a player was simply too painful to swallow, and, in the name of born-again fiscal responsibility, Dolan cried “uncle!”

It served to quite the hysterics. Who among the critics would personally feel good about writing a gratuitous $28 million dollar check to David Stern? And for those of us that spent years pleading for fiscal responsibility in the face of Isiah-nomics, it was impossible to argue against. Had Dolan changed? Would there be no more gross overpays for middling talent? No more Malik Roses, Antonio Davises, Mo Taylors, Jerome Jameses, Jalen Roses, Shandon Andersons, Jamal Crawfords, Stephon Marburies, Howard Eisleys, Eddy Currys, Steve Francises, or Jared Jeffries. Jeremy Lin, it seemed, was a small price to pay for a long-term commitment to franchise building.

Then, almost a year to the day that Jeremy Lin was poached by the Rockets, along came Andrea Bargnani.

$23,362,500 over the next two years for a player that’s been the poster-boy for under-performance. Yes, that is more than Jeremy Lin stood to make over the same amount of time (both contracts expire on July 1st, 2015). And, just as was the case with the Lin offer, the Bargnani contract had no salary cap impact and wouldn’t have any bearing on future flexibility. The only negative rested in the tax it would levy on just one man: James Dolan.

Which brings us to the titular question: is James Dolan a hypocrite?

There is a simple way to determine this. Add up the numbers and see if Dolan truly was thinking with his wallet, or if there were ulterior motives at play. If he is paying less tax on Bargnani’s contract than he would have for Lin, then the Knicks’ highroad fiscal preparedness position should not be questioned. If, however, the taxes for Bargnani add up to more than what Lin was estimated to have cost, then it would appear that James Dolan, in typical James Dolan fashion, cut off the nose of the franchise to spite it’s face.

So, let’s look at the numbers:

Entering free agency in 2012, the Knicks had four long-term contracts in place: the big-three of Anthony, Stoudemire, and Chandler, along with Iman Shumpert’s rookie deal, for a 2015 total of just under $64,000,000. By the time of the Lin decision Jason Kidd had already been added, adding another $3,090,000, and the Marcus Camby trade had been agreed to and a contract was being worked out that would eventually extend to 2015, but of that, only $646,609 was guaranteed, effectively making it, for tax purposes, a minimum contract slot hold. Also, during the Lin deliberations, the Knicks allowed Landry Fields to leave for Toronto, but agreed to a long-term contract with Steve Novak that would add another $3,445,947 toward the 2015 pot. And, of course, in the frantic days that surrounded Lin’s departure, replacement Ray Felton was added for four years, including $3,793,693 to the all-important 2015 figure. The rest of the roster was then fleshed out with short-term minimum salaries (with the lone exception of JR Smith’s more complicated 1 year deal), bringing the 2015 total to $74,287,896. If Dolan had decided to match on Lin, and had kept all other moves the same (including bringing in Felton for linsurance), the 2015 projected total would have been $89,087,896, significantly above the tax threshold.

Jump forward one year and the 2015 outlook has changed. Off the books are Jason Kidd (retired) and Steve Novak (traded), clearing $6,535,957. At the same time, marginal raises were given to two of last year’s minimum slots (Prigioni and World Peace) totaling $1,800,121. Also, the team added the guaranteed $1,250,640 of first-round draft pick Tim Hardaway, as well as the (as-promised) raise to JR Smith of $5,982,385, totaling $78,066,964. Add to that the big addition of the summer, the aforementioned Andrea Bargnani, and the $11.5 million committed to him in 2015, bringing the current 2015 projection to $89,566,964.

So, is the Bargnani tax going to cost as much as the Lin levy was estimated to have been?

Because of the “poison pill” structure of the contract Lin signed with Houston, Lin would have been owed $14.8 million by the Knicks in 2015 (or, $3.3 million more than Bargnani stands to make that year). Because the new luxury tax has an tiered system, the higher a contract goes over the threshold, the higher the tax rate. So that extra $3.3 million would have been taxed $2.50 for every dollar paid to Lin. Doing the math, Bargnani’s tax bill in 2015 will be $19,999,997, whereas Lin’s, as stated, would have been $28,000,000.

So, is James Dolan a hypocrite?

The answer, it seems, is no. Dolan will save $8 million dollars in 2015 by paying Bargnani instead of Lin. He has not crossed the line in the sand that was drawn during the Lin saga. He still has a foot solidly placed on the high road. Instead of the irresponsible $43 million Lin would have cost him in 2015, Bargnani will only cost him a healthy $31.5 million. By this standard, Dolan is not a hypocrite.

However, what isn’t represented in this total is the amount that Bargnani will cost the Knicks in 2014. Lin only stood to earn $5,225,000 this coming season–a season in which Bargnani will be paid $11,862,500 ($6,637,500 more than Lin). 2014 is the first year of the incremental tax structure, so Bargnani’s taxes will cost Dolan $12,843,748 more than Lin would have, which evens out the 2015 poison pill. Andrea Bargnani will ultimately cost the Knicks more over the next two years than Lin would have, had the Knicks matched.

But the line in the sand wasn’t drawn around 2014. It was 2015 that the argument against Lin was based on, and in 2015 James Dolan will, technically, save $8 million dollars.

The question then becomes: what will Dolan do with the $8 million that will be burning a hole in his pocket in 2015? Only time will tell. But one thing we do know is that $8 million doesn’t go very far in the world Dolan lives in. It comes up a few million short of buying a sexual harassment settlement. And it’s not even half the way towards paying Larry Brown not to coach the Knicks again.

Donnie Walsh Transaction Timeline

April 2, 2008: Walsh hired as President of the Knicks.

Supposedly at the insistence of commissioner David Stern, James Dolan hires Walsh to bring the Knicks from international laughingstock back to respectability. Walsh announces a Two Year plan: To restore cap flexibility while still trying to win as many games as possible.

April 18, 2008: Isiah Thomas “reassigned”.

Walsh had hired Isiah in 2000 to coach the Pacers. Reports were that Walsh liked Isiah and wanted him to stay as coach but new Pacer President Larry Bird wanted Isiah fired. There was no way Walsh and Isiah could co-exist. Unlike Lenny Wilken’s physical ejection from MSG, Walsh ushers Isiah out as quietly and respectfully as possible, letting him finish out the season as coach, then allowing him to stay with the team as a draft consultant. (Hmmm… treat others as you would want others to treat you, perhaps?)

May 5, 2008: Mike D’Antoni hired as Knicks coach.

Walsh convinces established winner Mike D’Antoni to choose the Knicks rebuilding job over the Bulls playoff-ready roster. Does so by spending Dolan’s money in a way that doesn’t effect the salary cap (4 years, $24 million). A few weeks later the Bulls win the lottery and select Derrick Rose while the Knicks officially begin their “Two Year Plan”.

June 26, 2008: Danilo Gallinari drafted.

Walsh reportedly wants Russell Westbrook who is off the board when the Knicks go on the clock. Instead he selects Italian 19 year old Danilo Gallinari, who D’Antoni has a relationship with dating from his days playing in Italy with Gallinari’s father. The rest of the lottery proceeds to be: Eric Gordon, Joe Alexander, D.J. Augustin, Brook Lopez, Jerryd Bayless, Jason Thompson, and Anthony Randolph.

July 9, 2008: Chris Duhon signed.

Walsh signs Duhon to be the starting PG, unofficially ending the Stephon Marbury era. D’Antoni says he has a system, he just needs an engine to run it. Declares Duhon to be the heir to the system that Steve Nash perfected.

July 28, 2008: Renaldo Balkman Traded.

Walsh makes his first trade, sending productive forward Renaldo Balkman to Denver for Bobby Jones, Taureen Green (the son of Knick legend Sidney Green), and a 2nd round pick. Jones and Green are waived several days later. The 2nd round draft pick becomes Landry Fields.

August 29, 2008: Frederic Weis traded for Patrick Ewing.

In a desperate attempt to grab positive headlines, Walsh brilliantly trades legendary draft bust Frederic Weis to the Nuggets for all-time great Patrick Ewing (‘s significantly less talented son, Patrick Ewing Jr.). Thus begins the second Ewing Era, which amounts to a series of flirtations and ultimate heartbreak for the Ewing family, as Walsh waives Jr. not once but twice over the next two years.

November 21, 2008: Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph traded.

In keeping with his stated long-range plan, Walsh trades Jamal Crawford to Golden State for Al Harrington. Reportedly, Walsh tells Golden State GM Chris Mullin he can have his choice of Isiah-disaster players (The “Big Four” of Eddy Curry, Jared Jeffries, Zach Randolph, and Jamal Crawford) for disgruntled Warrior Al Harrington. Mullin chooses Crawford. Several hours later Walsh trades Randolph, along with Mardy Collins, for Ex-Knick Tim Thomas and Ex-basketball player Cuttino Mobley.

This represents the first major day in the life of Donnie Walsh as Knick president. It puts in motion a plan to target the free agent class of 2010 and from here there is no going back. At the time of the trade, the “Big Four” were all deemed “untradable”. Randolph and Crawford were, apparently, the least “untradable” as they were not only traded by the Knicks, but within a year, both were traded again. It should be noted that the rate of return diminished even further, as Jamal Crawford was traded for a package of Acie Law and retiree Speedy Claxton, and Zach Randolph was traded for fellow Knick outcast Quentin Richardson (more on him later). It should also be noted that Jamal Crawford went on to win 6th man of the year in 2010 and Zach Randolph went on to become an All Star with the Grizzlies.

February 19, 2009: Larry Hughes and Chris Wilcox Acquired.

In a trade day full of lateral moves, Walsh elects not to add any long-term contracts, instead trading Isiah blunders Jerome James and Malik Rose for Walsh blunders Larry Hughes and Chris Wilcox. Interestingly, Chris Wilcox had been traded earlier that week for Tyson Chandler, who failed his physical and was sent back to cash strapped New Orleans. Presumably the Hornets would have still been open to trading Wilcox for Chandler, if NY was willing to ignore the results of the physical (they had, after all, still gone through with the Cuttino Mobley trade, despite a physical revealing certain death should Mobley ever suit up for the Knicks). In the end, though, Walsh keeps to the long-term plan of not taking on contracts that run past 2010 (Chandler’s deal ran to 2011). Chandler, it should be noted, is a preeminent defending, rebounding, high-efficiency, low-usage big man—the kind of player that the Knicks current roster desperately needs.

It should also be noted that multiple reports indicated that Walsh turned down a trade offer from Sacramento that would have sent Nate Robinson and Big Four member Jared Jeffries to California in exchange for 2010 expiring contract Kenny Thomas. Walsh never confirmed this deal to have been on the table, so speculate as you will. But if Walsh did, in fact, turn it down, it should stand as a dark bruise on Donnie’s record.

February 24, 2009: Stephon Marbury waived.

With the trade deadline passing, and no takers for Marbury’s gargantuan expiring contract, Walsh officially washes his hands of Stephon Marbury and his morale damaging antics. Marbury had been benched—then banished—kept on the roster solely as trade-filler should a mega-deal arise. Walsh’s treatment of Marbury held true to Stern’s mandate that the Knicks stop being a circus and start being a basketball team.

June 25, 2009: Jordan Hill selected with the #8 pick; Tony Douglas selected with the #29 pick in the draft.

In a draft rich in PG prospects (Rubio, Flynn, Curry, Jennings, Holiday, Lawson, Teague, Maynor, Collison, Beaubois…) Walsh selects PF Jordan Hill with the #8 pick, much to the consternation of statistically inclined Knick fans.

Walsh also purchases the Laker’s first round pick for $3 million, again spending Dolan’s money in a way that doesn’t effect cap flexibility. With it he selects combo-guard Tony Douglas, soon to be the longest tenured Knick.

Walsh also trades Isiah-era hanger-on-er Quentin Richardson for Darko Milicic, acquiring a much needed big man. Milicic subsequently doesn’t play, making this a pointless move to discuss. It should be noted, though, that the move fit in to Walsh’s real long-term goal of acquiring all of the top 5 draft picks from the class of 2003. Interestingly, Pat Riley also attempted to do the same. Riley in the end beat Walsh 3 to 1, with Milicic the only one to not end the 2011 season on either the Knicks or the Heat.

September 25, 2009: David Lee and Nate Robinson signed to 1 year contracts.

Walsh avoids adding 2010 payroll by signing David Lee and Nate Robinson to one year deals, effectively making them both lame-duck Knicks.

February 18, 2010: Jared Jeffries traded. Nate Robinson traded.

The second landmark day for Walsh as Knick GM saw Walsh finally trade the untrabable Jared Jeffries. The price was steep, though, as it cost the Knicks rookie Jordan Hill and their 2012 first round draft pick. In exchange, the Knicks obtained faded star Tracy McGrady and Spanish rental Sergio Rodriguez. Neither proved productive as Knicks, but both expired in time for the summer of 2010.

That same day, Walsh made his first vertical move into 2010, acquiring cheap swing-man Bill Walker from the Celtics for soon-to-be-renounced Nate Robinson. Walker represented Walsh’s first acquired asset that would be retained for the “rebuilt” Knicks.

April 12, 2010: Earl Barron signed.

After swinging and missing in the D-League on players like Joe Crawford, Demetris Nichols, Courtney Simms, Saer Sene, and others, Walsh manages to pluck an NBA worthy talent. Barron puts up replacement level numbers (11 ppg, 11 rpg in 7 games). In the end, Barron’s league minimum salary is renounced in favor of cap space.

June 24, 2010: Andy Rautins, Landry Fields, and James Jordan drafted.

Armed with only 2nd round picks, Walsh drafts Andy Rautins (#38), Landry Fields (#39), and purchases James Jordan (#44), adding three minimum wage non-guaranteed contracts to help fill out a non-existent roster. Fields, not even on most teams’ draft boards, puts up a sensational rookie season, starting 81 games at SG and finishing third in his draft class in Rookie of the Year voting.

July 8, 2010: Amar’e Stoudemire signed.

Hoping to score two superstars in the free agent bonanza of 2010, Walsh lands his first, signing Amar’e Stoudemire to a 5 year, $99 million deal. Amar’e instantly becomes the best player since Patrick Ewing to wear a Knicks jersey.

July 9, 2010: LeBron makes his decision. David Lee traded.

In the single most important day for the Knicks franchise since May 14th, 1985, LeBron James chooses the Miami Heat over the Knicks, turning Donnie Walsh’s Two Year plan into a Four or Five year plan.

Minutes later Walsh trades fan favorite David Lee to Golden State for injured Kelenna Azubuike, Center Ronnie Turiaf, and intriguing prospect Anthony Randolph. Lee, already replaced at PF by newly acquired Amar’e Stoudemire, nets a hefty return in three rotation players.

July 12, 2010: Ray Felton signed.

With few PGs to choose from amongst the enormous pool of free agents, Walsh signs who he believes to be the best available engine for D’Antoni’s rebult Knicks, former #4 draft pick Ray Felton. Amid a mass frenzy that saw mediocre players maxed out, Felton signs for a reasonable 2 year, $14 Million.

July 13, 2010: Timofey Mozgov signed.

Needing to add size to the roster, Walsh signs unheralded Russian big man Timofey Mozgov to a 3 year, $9 million deal (parts of it partially guaranteed).

September 23, 2010: Shawne Williams signed.

In what seems like a favor to an old friend that had fallen on hard times, Walsh invites former Walsh lottery pick Shawne Williams to training camp. To the surprise of many, Williams beats out Patrick Ewing Jr. for the final roster spot, becoming the 15th man on the depth chart. By January, Williams will have worked his way into the rotation while leading the league in 3 point shooting.

February 22, 2011: Carmelo Anthony trade.

In what seems to have been the beginning of the end of Donnie Walsh in New York, Walsh caves after months of posturing, giving away every asset on the roster but the rookie Landry Fields. In the days leading up to the trade, the rabid, insatiable media speculated that James Dolan had taken over negotiations. Soon after speculation began that the disgraced Isiah Thomas was giving more input than Walsh. The suddenly embattled Walsh, already wheelchair ridden, insisted the trade was made by his own accord. Skeptics remained dubious.

The trade, which sent Danillo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Ray Felton, a 2014 draft pick, Anthony Randolph, and Eddy Curry away and brought in Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, and Corey Brewer, effectively purged the roster of the last of Isiah’s “Big Four”, Eddy Curry the only “untradable” that truly was untradable up to the very end.

February 28, 2011: Corey Brewer waived. Derrick Brown claimed off waivers.

With the Knicks falling to last in defensive efficiency after the trade, Walsh waives newly acquired defensive specialist Corey Brewer. In his place Derrick Brown is claimed. Brown goes on to play 88 minutes of garbage.

March 1, 2011: Jared Jeffries signed.

I a fitting swan song, the last transaction in Donnie Walsh’s Knicks career is the signing of Jared Jeffries. Yes, this is the same Jared Jeffries that cost Walsh two first round picks to trade just one year earlier. Finally paid what he is worth (league minimum) Jeffries goes on to drop the ball while trying to make a game winning lay up in game two of the Knicks’ four game sweep by the Celtics.

Fields of (2nd Round) Gold, Part II

Back in December, when Landry Fields was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for November, I broke down his first month in the NBA and compared it to other notable 2nd round draft picks. Back then he compared favorably to Manu Ginobili, arguably the greatest second round pick since the draft went to two rounds in 1989. With Fields placing fourth in Rookie of the Year balloting, I thought it would be a good time to see if Fields’ first season remained truly one of the great rookie performances by a 2nd round draftee.

It is rare for 2nd round draft picks to be featured in Rookie of the Year voting. The high-profile draft picks have an advantage as they are not only famous, but they also step onto struggling teams that are able to provide a lot minutes of playing time. Still, every few years there is a second rounder that gains league wide notice. Ryan Gomes, Jorge Garbajosa, Paul Milsap, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Marc Gasol were all 2nd round picks that managed to crack the top ten in ROY balloting.

Was Fields the highest placing 2nd rounder ever? The answer is no, though he did place as high as Ginobili did in 2003, four years after being taken 57th by the Spurs. There have been two 2nd rounders that managed to place third: Luis Scola in 2008 (six years after he was drafted 55th by the Rockets), and center Marc Jackson in 2001 (four years after being taken 37th in 1997).

So by Rookie of the Year balloting, Fields posted a remarkably good rookie season, but not the greatest by a 2nd round pick. But voting, of course, is subjective, and its hard to draw any worthwhile conclusions from the ballots. Far better is to look at the large sample size of one entire 82 game season to see how his numbers compare to other great 2nd round picks.

Fields’ 2541 minutes were the third most of any 2nd round rookie since 1989. Only Mario Chalmers (34th pick in 2008) and Nick Van Exel (37th pick in 1993) played more minutes their rookie years. The question then becomes: what did Fields do in those minutes, and how does his performance compare to the other great rookie seasons posted by 2nd round selections:

Player Points/36 Rebounds/36 Assists/36 TO/36 TS% PER
Landry Fields 11.3 7.4 2.2 1.5 .598 13.5
Manu Ginobili 13.2 4.1 3.5 2.5 .556 14.7
Mbah a Moute 10.1 8.3 1.5 1.7 .516 12.3
Carl Landry 17.3 10.5 1.1 1.3 .641 21.4
Marcus Thornton 20.3 4.1 2.2 1.5 .550 17.4
Dejuan Blair 15.4 12.7 1.6 2.7 .564 17.7

A strong showing, no doubt, but clearly not as special of a season as his first month promised. By season end much of the Landry Fields excitement that Knick fans enjoyed early had largely worn off. It appeared to the eye that Fields regressed as the season wore on, culminating in an uninspired playoff performance.

Did the Carmelo Anthony trade truly knock Fields off his game? Or was it that Fields hit the proverbial “rookie wall”? Or, was it that our eyes were deceiving us, and that statistically, Fields remained as productive at the end of the season as he was at the beginning?

Here is a breakdown of Fields’ season:

  Points/36 Rebounds/36 Assists/36 Turnovers/36 3 Point % TS%
Games 1-27 11.7 8.5 2.1 1.52 35.1 .604
Games 28-54* 10.5 7.3 2.3 1.55 44.0 .633
Games 55-82 11.7 6.2 2.2 1.47 38.1 .546
Total 11.3 7.4 2.2 1.51 39.3 .598


(*Carmelo Anthony played his first game as a Knick in game # 55)

Surprisingly, Fields’ scoring volume didn’t drop off at all during the final third of the season. In fact, it went up, averaging 1.2 points more than he did during the middle third. Similarly, his turnovers dropped significantly, which is a positive sign for any rookie. His assists stayed consistent too, and though his 3-point percentage dipped, it remained high for a player who supposedly lacked an outside shot entering the league (and especially considering his attempts/36 increased during the timeframe). At Stanford, Fields shot just 33% from three point range his senior year—a rate he eclipsed even after hitting his “rookie wall”.

On the other hand, Fields’ rebounding and shooting efficiency tailed off significantly in the final third of the season. This was a troubling trend for Knick fans mainly because those were two areas of excellence that separated him from your average rookie swingman. During the first third of the season Fields shot a blistering TS% of .604 while leading all guards in rebounding. As the season progressed his efficiency actually increased while his rebounding slipped. Then, after the Carmelo Anthony trade, his efficiency began to slide as well.

So, was it the Carmelo Anthony trade that was Fields’ undoing?

It seems strange that this could be the case. During the tumultuous lead-up to the trade Fields’ name was forefront in trade negotiations. Yet somehow closure to the speculation supposedly made the rookie crack? It seems unlikely, especially considering the numbers show that Fields’ rebounding had already dropped significantly during the month leading up to the trade, and it seems odd that Anthony’s presence would cause any of his teammates to become suddenly worse at rebounding. Anthony’s rebound rate is only slightly better than Chandler or Gallinari’s (and obviously considerably worse than their combined rates, which was the void he stepped into). Additionally, for somebody who was seemingly lost in the isolation offense Billups and Anthony ran, Fields still managed to increase his scoring volume. For these reasons it is hard to finger the Carmelo Anthony trade as the reason for Fields’ decline.

Was it the mythological “Rookie Wall” then?

Though Fields’ numbers dipped in some areas as the season progressed, it wasn’t until the playoffs that they fell off the proverbial cliff. His totals were strong across the board, not only for a second round draft pick, but for any NBA player. More likely than anything, Fields’ post All-Star break performance represented a regression to the mean. It was unrealistic to expect a rookie who shot 33% from three-point range in college to come to the pros and shoot 44%.

So what can we expect moving forward? Could Fields develop his game and join Manu Ginobili, Carlos Boozer, and Gilbert Arenas as one of the all-time great 2nd round draft finds? If he can somehow manage to sustain his 2010 first-half production over the course of successive seasons, the answer is yes. But more likely, Fields will enjoy a long career as an unheralded player, possibly like Luc Mbah a Moute—a low usage, strong rebounding, highly intelligent player that nicely compliments the high usage players around him.

But then there is the pessimism that is endemic among the downtrodden Knick fans that have endured an entire decade of joyless basketball. Fields looked dreadful in the playoffs—lost on offense and abused by Ray Allen on the defensive end. For the pessimists in the house, another comp could be the career of former Cavalier Cedric Henderson. Henderson was a 6’7” swingman who’d played four years of college ball before being selected 44th in the 1997 draft. Henderson played his way into a starting role his rookie year, playing 2527 minutes for a team that made the playoffs. The Cavs lost in four that year, Henderson performing poorly at the end. He then went on to decline in production for the next few years until he took his talents to Europe’s finest cities.

If for no other reason than to watch further episodes of the Andy and Landry Show, let’s hope Fields bounces back from his post-season malaise and sticks in the league a long, long time. Considering the Knicks’ roster composition, a lot of the team’s future success rides on the shoulders of Landry Fields.

Landry Fields Of (Second Round) Gold

… another shitty draft by Walsh.
Jon Abbey, June 24th, 2010

Carlos Boozer, Gilbert Arenas, Nick Van Exel, Cedric Ceballos, Michael Redd, Rashard Lewis, Clifford Robinson, Antonio Davis, Mo Williams, Manu Ginobili. What do these players all have in common other than being members of NBA All Star fraternity? They all have the dubious distinction of being passed over by every NBA team on their draft-day free-fall to the second round.

Historically, the second round of the NBA draft is where good college players go to disappear. Very few second rounders make an NBA team, let alone significantly contribute to one. Since the NBA went to a two round draft system in 1989 an average of only 6.5 second round draftees manage to log 3500 minutes in any given year. That means roughly 20% of second rounders last over three years in the league and contribute more than sporadic garbage minutes as roster-filling practice dummies.

So when draft day 2010 rolled around and the rebuilding Knicks, armed only with two second rounders (no 1st rounder courtesy of legendary franchise destroyers Isiah Thomas and Stephon Marbury), prepared to fill their depleted roster with a few minimum salaried non-guaranteed players, the hopes that fans had was to find somebody who could contribute something, anything really, at the NBA level. The Knicks went on the clock at 10:46 pm to make their first of two selections. They announced the selection of Syracuse guard Andy Rautins at 10:49 pm, followed by the selection of Stanford swingman Landry Fields at 10:51. The announcement was met tepidly by Knickerblogger posters, to say the least…

Who is Landry Fields!!!!!!!!!” – massive

I have never been more disgusted…well, at least since Frederik Weis.Z-man

Anyone else pining for the Smiling Weasel right about now???” –TDM

bring back thomas, bring back thomas.” –Thomas B.

Presumably Thomas B. was referring to Isiah and not himself with his chant, and if so, he no doubt was remembering one of Isiah’s rare coups as dictator of the Knicks—his plucking of NBA rotation player Trevor Ariza mid-way through the second round in 2004. Still, though, the idea of pining for the days of Isiah Thomas shows just how nauseous the Knickerblogger community was feeling over the selection of the unknown Landry Fields. It was clear that sentiment fell in favor of the athletic 7-footer Solomon Alibi or top high school recruit and Lincoln High legend Lance Stevenson, both still available. Field’s was so unheralded he wasn’t even on Chad Ford’s top 100 prospects (or on Ted Nelson’s even more thorough “Knicks Draft Prospects” list!).

But as the fervor of the moment began to wane, some cooler heads started to whisper. The Honorable Cock Jowles was the first official member of the Landry Fields bandwagon when he wrote: “Hate to say this, but according to PAWS40, Fields might be a steal”. Moments later KB’s longtime voice of reason, Caleb went out on a limb and said: “I am going to be a contrarian and say this Fields thing might be smart.

Well, one month in and it’s time to take a look not at whether this Fields thing is smart, but just how smart it is. After 18 games, all starts, Landry Fields has not only exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic Knick fans. He has completely obliterated them.

So, how good has Landry Fields been? A Priori, I guessed that Fields’ first month was, statistically, probably the greatest first month any second round draft pick had ever had, ever. Gilbert Arenas and Carlos Boozer both struggled to find minutes during their first month in the league. Michael Redd barely played at all his entire first season. Same with Rashard Lewis. Manu Ginobili, arguably the greatest second round selection of the era, was good, but was he better than Fields? With a sample size of 1/5th of an NBA season to judge him by, let’s compare his rookie season thus far to Spurs super star Manu Ginobili.

What has set Fields apart from Ginobili, so far, is his fantastic rebounding and his unbelievable scoring efficiency. In many ways, his first month has been Ginobili’s first season on steroids—a TS% 70 points higher to go along with double Ginobili’s rebound rate. And Ginobili, a 25 year old rookie, had already played on some of the most competitive international teams in the world, whereas Fields had just come from a bad college team playing is a sub-par conference.

So, it is clear that whether he projects out to be better than Ginobili or not, he is clearly a great find at the #39 pick. Smart, as Caleb suggested way back in June. Very smart. But is Fields’ remarkable first month truly the greatest first 18 games any second round pick from the last 20 years has put together?

Because of the low expectation that comes with second round picks, few get much playing time, let alone starting minutes. Field’s minutes, alone, put him in a conversation with only a few other second rounders. Only twelve second round picks have ever averaged 26 minutes or more over their first 18 games. These players aren’t the Boozers and the Michael Redds of the league, though, but rather guys like Sherman Douglas, Mario Chalmers, Cuttino Mobley, Trenton Hassell, Sean Rooks, and Chris Duhon. In other words, guys who proved useful early on, but never transcended their niche to become stars. The good news for fans of Fields, though, is that his numbers thus far easily out-perform all of these guys, placing him far closer to Ginobili than to Mobley or Hassell.

On the other hand, though, Fields’ first 18 games are eerily similar to the first 18 games of Luc Mbah a Moute. The 2008 #37 pick, Mbah a Moute was an unheralded 22 year old coming out of the PAC 10 (sound familiar). He assumed the starting 2 guard position during the second week of his rookie season and averaged per 36 numbers of: 8.9 rebounds, 1.03 assists, 1.2 steals, and 11.5 points, in 29 minutes per game over the first month.

Not to diminish Luc Mbah a Moute—he’s a great second round find—but he’s also no Manu Ginobili. If Fields is teasing Knick fans the way Mbah a Moute teased Bucks fans, the Landry Fields love train could lose steam by year’s end.

So, where exactly does Landry Fields’ first month rank, statistically, with other great second round selections? Assuming he stays healthy and continues at the pace he’s on, he is thus far a runner-up with these guys. And who boasts the greatest rookie season by a second round draft pick in the past twenty years? It happens to be a different Landry, currently with the Sacramento Kings and a pivotal piece to the Jarred Jeffries jettison. Carl Landry, the 31st pick in the 2007 draft put up a remarkable 21.4 PER with a .641 TS%. He grabbed 10.5 rebounds/36, and WS48 of .251, good for fifth in the league, just ahead of LeBron James.

But Carl Landry isn’t a star, and since becoming a primary option in Sacramento hasn’t even been very good. Will Fields career project upward from here? Could he one day be seen as the greatest second round find since Manu Ginobili?

Time will tell. But whether his first month is for real or if he comes down to earth as the season progresses, one thing is certain: This was not “another shitty draft by Walsh”.

GOTME: Knicks’ General Managers

In a lottery lacking surprise,
DeBusschere drafted “The Franchise”.
But the team was a shame
Losing game after game
And from the cellar they never could rise.

Al Bianchi assembled “the Bomb Squad”
Mark Jackson, J. New, and the Hot Rod.
Traded Cartwright for Oak,
But MacLeod was a joke,
And the roster, though good, remained flawed.

Grunfeld put together some winners
Reaching the finals when league talent got thinner.
He perfected the craft
Of dodging the draft
But his teams needed “Offense for Beginners”.

Ed Tapscot was GM for a day
With a roster on the verge of decay
Instead of drafting Artest
Took the player he thought best:
A Frenchman who stayed in Marseilles.

Scott Layden had the master solution:
Trading Ewing to begin the devolution
Getting Longley and Rice,
Swapping Camby for ‘Dice
And then brilliantly maxing out Houston.

And who could forget our Isiah
At one time, a Hall of Fame playah
But as an exec
Proved an utter train wreck:
A perverted, capped-out franchise slayah.

So now there’s a savior named Donnie
Who, to undo all Isiah’d done wrong, he
Traded all of our picks
‘Till Three Thousand and Six
But still wins if he gets us LeBronie!