Knicks Draft 2015 Round Table: Part 4

The KnickerBlogger staff has decided to spend the 8 days prior to the draft discussing the upcoming event. Each day will feature a different question that we will attempt to answer. Feel free to join us in the comment section!

10 years from now, where will this draft rank in terms of NBA talent?

Silverman: Can I just keep putting shrug emoticons? It’s a total crapshoot. At the start of the season, you’d probably put the 2013 draft under the biggest bus you could find and tramle it to death. Even Mike Woodson would approve.

Now? Otto Porter looked great during the playoffs, Alex Len’s starting for Phoenix, Victor Oladipo looks like he’s ready to bust out. Nerlens Noel alone brought Philly’s defense to the middle of the pack. Rudy Gobert’s the Stifle Tower. And on and on.

Gibberman: I see it being something like the 2010 draft. Some strong top end talent and high quality throughout almost all of the top 10 picks. Also, some good selections throughout the later first round. I love this draft.

Fisher-Cohen: It’s hard for me to judge. It’s been so long since the Knicks have had a high draft pick, that my head is way deeper into this draft than previous ones. However, my impression is that the top of the draft will end up somewhat underwhelming compared to most drafts while picks 5-15 will have 2-3 real gems, maybe something like the 2004 draft.

Kurylo: It’s not going to be as good at the 2003 draft, but it’ll be better than anything from 2004-2010. Maybe take out LeBron James from 2003, and you have this group. I think it’ll be better than 2004. Towns can be the next Dwight, and I think the next 7 guys will out perform Andre Iguodala, Luol Deng, Al Jefferson, Kevin Martin, Josh Smith, Devin Harris, and Anderson Varejao.

Cronin: I think Mike nailed it – this draft really looks a lot like the 2003 Draft, sans Lebron. That draft had top shelf talent like Melo, Bosh and Wade in the top five while this draft has guys like Towns, Okafor and Russell who look like they’ll be stars. Mudiay would seriously be a #1 pick in the last two drafts and he’s not even necessarily going to be a top four pick this year! That’s nuts! Also, this draft even has a European bust going in the top five just like 2003 (I kid, Mario, I kid!).

Knicks Draft 2015 Round Table: Part 3

The KnickerBlogger staff has decided to spend the 8 days prior to the draft discussing the upcoming event. Each day will feature a different question that we will attempt to answer. Feel free to join us in the comment section!

Predict the top 3 picks

Kurylo: Towns, Russell, Okafor. I think the Lakers pass on Okafor. He’s no Shaq defensively, and Russell has the higher ceiling. But I don’t see Okafor dropping to 4. Philly takes the BPA, which will make things interesting for the Knicks at #4.

Silverman: Towns, Russell, Porzingis. I agree with Mikey, but given Philly’s sudden Embiid-sized hole in the middle, I think Hinkie rolls the dice on the International 7-1 Man of Mystery. And yes, you’re perfectly within your rights to giggle till you turn beet red about the rumors that Kristaps might not make it to the States till 2016 or even 2017, but if he’s more Dirk than Bargs–and the CBA stipulates that all Euro power forward/center-types can only be one of the two–he’d make a dynamite frontcourt partner for Noel.

Gibberman: Towns, Okafor and not D’Angelo Russell for the Sixers. Russell does not fit the profile of how Hinkie has drafted since he’s taken over the team. He drafts raw, athletic with huge upside. I’m guessing he goes with Mudiay, Porzingis or Hezonja.

Fisher-Cohen: Towns, Okafor, Porzingis. LA hasn’t done anything over the last couple years to suggest they care to gamble or get creative in their process. They’ll pick the guy who seems like the surest thing, and Okafor is that guy. Hinkie is the opposite of that. He comes from the Morey school, where “smart risk” is the key to success. Porzingis has possibly the highest ceiling the draft, and that’s what Hinkie will focus on.

Topaz: Towns, Okafor, Russell: The Sixers seem to be the real mystery here, and I won’t even try to guess what they’re thinking behind mad genius Sam “Dexter’s Laboratory” Hinkie. But the front office clearly A) cares about analytics/offensive efficiency and B) didn’t like a very inefficient and poor-shooting floor general in Michael Carter-Williams. Russell may not have the biggest upside in the draft, but he certainly has tremendous potential, and pairing him with their two bigs makes all kind of sense.

Cronin: Towns, Okafor, Russell. I don’t think the Lakers are thrilled with Okafor, but I don’t think they’d be willing to pass on him and see him become a star. Russell over Porzingis is a close call. I could be absolutely wrong, but I think that’s likely where they currently stand, even if rumors say otherwise (and oh boy would I love to believe those rumors!)

Knicks Draft 2015 Round Table: Part 2

The KnickerBlogger staff has decided to spend the 8 days prior to the draft discussing the upcoming event. Each day will feature a different question that we will attempt to answer. Feel free to join us in the comment section!

Of Towns, Okafor, Mudiay and Russell, which one is most likely to be a bust?

Kurylo: Despite my statistical background, I’m not going to say Mudiay. Sure he’s got the smallest dataset of the bunch, and his shot is questionable. But he has a few things in his favor. First he’s playing against grown men in China, which is likely to be better competition than in the watered down NCAA. Second I believe players can become better shooters. Unfortunately the riskiest one of the bunch might be Russell. He has serious questions about his defense, and struggled against an NBA caliber defender (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson).

Silverman: ¯\(°_o)/¯ –

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Gibberman: This is weird, but I’m also going to say Okafor. He had weight issues in college and leading up to the draft got himself in great condition. That’s a worry. Why not be in great shape for the college season? The free throw concerns mentioned above are real too. He has the highest upside, which is why I’m willing to take a chance by some shocking development he dropped to four.

Fisher-Cohen: Easy — it’s Mudiay. The kid is an awful shooter at a position that demands shooting more than ever. And yes, you can learn to make a spot up three if you work at it. John Wall did it. Sort of. But unless you have Rajon Rondo-esque vision or John Wall-esque speed, or Russell Westbrook-esque athleticism, you need to be able to do more than just make assisted open jumpers. You need some ability to make threes off the dribble and draw big men out of the paint. If you can’t do that, any half-decent NBA defense will go under screens and force you to take shots you can’t make.

I don’t see that super-elite athleticism, vision or speed in Mudiay, and I don’t see many examples of players who have gone from Mudiay’s level shooting to becoming dangerous off the dribble shooters.

Topaz: Agree with most of what Max said, though obviously our information is crazy limited with him. It takes a special kind of athleticism to overcome being such a poor shooter and a turnover-prone point guard.

Cronin: I like him second only to Towns, but Okafor also has the biggest bust potential of these four guys, with Mudiay a close second. While I think Mudiay is the least likely of the four to become a star, I think his basic skill set is one that is just so geared towards the NBA game that his worst case scenario is not particularly awful – his “problem” is that I don’t know how likely he is to hit his best case scenario. Towns and Russell are pretty much locks to be good NBA players. Okafor is close, as well, but I think it is clear that he could at least theoretically eat himself out of the NBA. So he has a red flag that the other three don’t have.

Knicks Draft 2015 Round Table: Part 1

The KnickerBlogger staff has decided to spend the 8 days prior to the draft discussing the upcoming event. Each day will feature a different question that we will attempt to answer. Feel free to join us in the comment section!

Which of Okafor, Mudiay, or Russell would you rather fall to the 4th pick?

Kurylo: For some reason, I’m anxious about taking point guards early. I haven’t crunched the numbers on it, but they seem more likely to bust than not. Okafor is the most likely to not be a bust, and the Knicks need a sure thing here, so I’m good with the center.

Silverman: Okafor, not just because it would feel like some kind of Karmic payback for getting yoked out of a top two pick. But I think he’ll make for a better defender as a pro than he showed at Duke. Also, butt jokes. All the butt jokes.

Gibberman: Wow, this is a difficult question because all three are high quality prospects. I don’t think it happens, but I lean towards Okafor. Despite how the NBA is changing if you get a big man who you can build an entire offense around that’s incredibly valuable. His ability to post up, as long as he improves his free throw shooting, will make it hard for teams to take advantage going small. In the right scheme I think he can be fine on the defensive end too.

Okafor & Melo -- it's fate!
Okafor & Melo — it’s fate!

Fisher-Cohen: I’ll go with Okafor even though I’m not super-high on him because 1) he’s the guy Jackson is probably least likely to trade (he’s got that NBA butt), 2) it’s easier to find competent talent at guard than center, and 3) there’s something exciting about how hard it is to find a comparison for him. The only college freshman big to score like him at similar efficiency in recent history was Kevin Love.

Topaz: I worry about players that, if they’re sitting in the fourth quarter of a close game, you have to ask why. Is it because he’s a 51 percent free-throw shooter and the other team is hacking him? Or because his slow footwork and ineffective pick-and-roll defense is killing the team against a good offense? Everything points to Jahlil Okafor safely being a tremendous scorer, but the defense is worrisome. It’s a cliche, but the NBA is growing increasingly dependent on athleticism, rim protection and position-less basketball, and Okafor is mostly at odds with all three. And though this is a secondary concern, the thought of Melo and Russell on defense together is a bit horrifying. I’ll take Russell.

Cronin: I’d be thrilled if Okafor was there. I have been drooling over him and Melo playing the inside out game ever since last season began (well, as soon as the Knicks looked terrible, that is).

Roundtable: The Mid-Season Tankies

With the mid-year just passing, we decided to have a little round table on the most relevant topic to New York City basketball: tanking.

Which player is most valuable to his team’s tanking chances?

Kurylo: Josh Smith. Wait what??? His teams were trying to win???

Oh, then this has to be a tie between Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams. The pair have combined for 2700 minutes and neither has a TS% above 46%. It’s hard to pick between the two since they hurt (help?) their team in different ways. If you want to get killed under the boards and with low volume scoring, then Noel’s 8.6 REB/36 and 9.6 PTS/36 is perfect. If you want to die from outside and just give the ball away then MCW’s 25.6% 3P% and 4.5 TO/36 will do the trick. And both are young, so you can just play them as many minutes as you want “for development.”

This driver is sure to be the Knicks next GM
This driver is sure to be the Knicks next GM

Fisher-Cohen: It’s not just how bad a player plays that determines his value to an aspiring tanker. It’s the cover he provides. Secretly awful name brand players who GMs can sell as part of some vague plan to “compete” are are the prize possessions of any GM who wants to maximize his ping pong balls but for political reasons, must do so stealthily.

In this sense, Kobe has been my MVT (Most Valuable Tanker). Sentimental fans refuse to give up on the idea that Kobe is still a superstar no matter how bad his numbers are, so despite MVT runner up Michael Carter-Williams being the better in-game tank asset, Bryant’s ability to mask the tank gives him the leg up.

Cronin: Up until this point, I think it was Zach LaVine, who was quite possibly one of the worst starters in the NBA this season. Minnesota lost their starting point guard and basically said, “Eh, I’m sure we can manage to get by with this unprepared rookie” and boy were they wrong. Going forward, with LaVine being replaced by Ricky Rubio and Kobe Bryant on the shelf, I suppose I would have to go with Michael Carter-Williams, who seems to actively enjoy playing for a terrible team so long as he is allowed to shoot as much as he wants to shoot.

Topaz: I’ll go with Kobe, as well, but for a different reason: He’s the highest-paid player in the NBA. Just as top teams find surplus value on cheap contracts, tanking teams benefit from overpaid players who don’t live up to their deals and hamstring the team’s ability to get talent. Whereas Kobe ($23.5 million, #1 in the NBA) shot less than 38 percent from the field taking more than 20 shots a game and then got hurt for the year, the Knicks have actually gotten some actual value out of their secret tank weapon, Amar’e Stoudemire ($23.4 million, #2 in the NBA) on the offensive end.

Ephus: Andrew Wiggins. He started slow and has improved in the last thirty games. Now, he has to show that he can run headlong into the rookie Wall. Minnesota is going to keep running him out there to get as much experience as possible. Could get some 8 point/ 7 turnover nights.

Which team will tank the best (aka win the lottery)?

Kurylo: I have to go with Minnesota. It takes a special kind of tanking ability to play zero defense, and the Twolves are dead last in opposing points per possession and opposing shooting percentage. Who would have thought a team would get worse on defense after getting rid of Kevin Love?

Fisher-Cohen: Minny has the headstart, but it’s hard to see them staying at the bottom now that Kevin Martin, Vucevic and Rubio are all healthy. It’s tempting to write off Philly’s chances as well since after losing its first 17 games, they have gone 10-22, but even in the last 32 games, Philly’s point differential is -10.0.

Were it not for my lack of trust in Jackson and Anthony, I would pick the Knicks. Minus Melo, the boys in blue have a net rating of -13.5, but the Knicks’ recent decisions to play Melo big minutes alongside veteran 10 day contract players suggests that they don’t take this competition seriously. My pick: the 76ers.

Cat + Sports Blog = Win the Internet
Cat + Sports Blog = Win the Internet

Cronin: Minnesota certainly seems to have the pole position, but it does seem hard to believe that they’ll continue to lose quite this much once their team is healthy (which is why I keep expecting to see a “oops, Vucevic ‘re-injured’ himself in a freak accident that also ‘injured’ Gorgui Dieng” story out of Minnesota). I think I would give the Lakers the best odds. Their coach was terrible when he was ostensibly trying to win, if he actively tries to lose they should be exceptionally bad and they play in the harder conference, so it is easier for them to rack up losses. That said, I think the team that will be the best at actually tanking will be the Celtics. They will be the best at trying to lose (Danny Ainge is an old pro at this) – they just have too much room to make up, so I don’t think they’ll ultimately “win” the race to the bottom.

Topaz: The Sixers are probably the right pick, because A) they’re just a game behind the Wolves for worst record and B) more importantly, they are the most committed team to tanking in the NBA. Sam Hinkie is in the early stages of executing his grand tanking plan horror show, and unlike several other teams, the Sixers won’t let sentimentality or dignity get in the way of losing games.

Having said that … this nifty graphic shows the remaining strength of schedule for every team, and the Wolves — they of the league’s worst record — also have the toughest remaining schedule. I’m sticking with the Sixers because they have less talent and more of a tanking mandate, but the Wolves aren’t a bad pick, either.

Ephus: The Knicks. Once Melo sits, this team will be lucky to win three more games.

What team is hurting their chances at tanking?

Kurylo: When tanking, you want a player that has a TS% under 48% taking as many shots as possible. And when that same guy has a usage of 34.8 it’s nearly a perfect synergy of tankidity (tankitude? tankishness?). Unfortunately Kobe Bryant got hurt, and now the Lakers will turn to better scorers like Nick Young, Carlos Boozer, and Jeremy Lin, all near the league average in scoring efficiency. This is not a time for them to make an uptick toward mediocrity. They really needed Kobe on the court, and this injury will certainly hurt their chances at a decent pick.

Fisher-Cohen: I’m going to go with Indiana. If any team had a chance to make this a 96/97 Spurs season, it was the Pacers, who lost far and away their best player and really would have had nothing to lose by just blowing it up. Like they did with the Knicks, the gods blessed the Pacers with early injuries, removing all doubt that this was a lost season. Both Hibbert and West are good enough that a fringe contender would have gambled on them, yet the Pacers defied the will of the gods and instead chose to gamble the future of their franchise on finding a second elite player in the mid/late lottery, a once a decade type occurrence.

Cronin: I agree with Max. The Pacers really ought to be tanking, but they’re actively trying to make the playoffs, and obviously such a move hurts their chances at tanking.

Topaz: Let’s see … which team has a top-20 player by PER inexplicably playing heavy minutes on a knee that needs surgery and on the first year of a massive five-year contract? And what player scored an average of 29 points in 37 minutes in two recent wins against prime tanking opponents, the Sixers and Nets? The Knicks and Carmelo Anthony refusing to cede this year amounts to the biggest self-inflicted wound in the tanking sweepstakes, by far.

Ephus: Sacramento. They did all their damage early in the season, when they had Malone as their coach and Boogie Cousins was playing like an MVP. They fixed it by firing Malone, bringing in Ty Corbin and have played like veterans of the lottery.

Meep! Meep!
Meep! Meep!

What move could an outside (dark horse) team do to tank more?

Kurylo: Honestly I spent about 20 minutes trying to find a team other than the Knicks. And I’m all out of alternate ideas. It has to be shutting down Carmelo Anthony and playing Jason Smith as much as humanly possible. It’s painful as a Knick fan to suggest such torture (especially when I’ll be the one watching the games), but much like a vaccination shot – one dose of short term pain will make the payoff well worth it.

Fisher-Cohen: When you take health into account, Orlando is a pretty talented team relative to other bottom dwellers. They just have the same problem as the Knicks: no one can defend a lick, and it’s only gotten worse (114.8 defensive rating over their last 9, 15 losses in the last 17 games). Unlike Minnesota, they have no injured difference-makers waiting in the wings. Unlike the Knicks, they don’t have a star who cares more about playing in the All-Star game than his health or his team’s future.

If the Magic trade Tobias Harris (but please not to the Knicks!) and they let Jacque Vaughn continue to bumble his way through the season, Orlando has a real chance to be starting twin towers next season: Okafor and Vucevic. Their defense will still suck though.

Cronin: Orlando is definitely my pick for a dark horse tanking team. They could easily get into the mix if they start sitting some of their better players. The biggest argument against them tanking, though, is that they are apparently preparing to replace Jacque Vaughn as coach, and you tend not to bring in a coach just to tell him to tank. It is typically much easier to just have the outgoing coach do that.

Topaz: The Nuggets are one Ty Lawson ankle injury away — an injury that would derail my Knickerblogger fantasy basketball team as I struggle to close the gap with a seemingly immovable Gibberman in first place — from making a late-season play for tanking relevancy. The team is 1-9 in its last ten, has pretty clearly quit on its coach, and is completely directionless in an outrageously tough conference. They’re too far out to finish with the worst record, but they could easily leapfrog several teams in their way — Sacramento, Utah, Detroit — if things continue to get worse and/or the oft-injured Lawson is forced out for an extended period of time.

Ephus: I’m going with the Kings again. DeMarcus Cousins may kill Rudy Gay during the post-ASG run. Neither gives a single damn about defense at this point. Each will point the finger at the other. Boogie is much bigger. If not for the 17 wins they already accumulated, I would have them as odds-on favorites.

Roundtable: Knicks Trade Shump and J.R.

[This round table was conducted mid-day Tuesday. As of the scheduled published date, none of the players the Knicks received have been officially waived, so some of us went on that assumption. As more information comes in, we will report on it here or in the comments below.]

Of all the tangible assets in the trade (Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk, Lance Thomas, and a 2019 second-round draft choice from Cleveland) which will be the most useful for the Knicks?

Kurylo: As per Alex Kirk’s Draft Express page “The downside, however, is that his 13.6% body fat ranked second highest among prospects invited to the NBA Draft Combine and his 48th place finish in our Athletic Testing Composite Rating supports our past assertion that he is a below average athlete.” So he’s Eddy Curry without any natural ability. Add the fact that his D-League numbers are pedestrian at best. Unless someone gets this guy doing Crossfit, he’s a complete waste. None of Lance’s Thomas’ stats [http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/t/thomala01.html] show him to be anything special either. So if he’s a worthy defender, that’s pretty much what you’re getting.

That leaves us with Amundson and the pick. Lou’s per minute stats are OK (10.1 reb/36, 2.0 blk/36, 1.0 stl/36) although his efficiency leaves a little to be desired (49.0% ts%). However he’s a considerable upgrade over Quincy Acy (a comparison of the two) and as much as I’d like to say the 2nd round pick, I’ll stick with Amundson.

Cronin: They’re supposedly waiving everyone but Lance Thomas (and possibly even him, as well), so I guess I’d say the second round pick by default.

Ephus: None of the above.

Gibberman: I’m going to wait until the Knicks make the 2019 second round pick to definitely answer this.

Udwary: The most useful asset going to the Knicks will be the roster spots that open up when they cut the players they get from the Cavs. There is definitely some intriguing players in the D-League right now that Phil might want to take a look at. Seth Curry is absolutely killing it, taking 7.7 3pt shots a game and hitting them at a 53% clip. Would you rather have a solid rebounding center who can shoot the midrange jumper, and still score efficiently, so that we can keep Jason Smith on the bench forever? Take a look at the season JaMychal Green is having for Austin. There is definitely potential diamonds out there, so hopefully we look at some of these young guys to fill roster spots.

What does this trade tell us about Phil Jackson?

Kurylo: Well it certainly doesn’t prove that Jackson is a genius from a talent perspective. But perhaps this was a trade that’s more about subtraction than addition. Removing J.R. from the team perhaps sends a message to the league that the Knicks won’t suffer fools (anymore). As a coach, the Zen Master was always keen on Jedi mind tricks through various means. Perhaps he’s found a new medium?

To go in a weird direction for a second, take the New York Jets and the upcoming draft. If New York were to take the problematic Jameis Winston with their top pick, you can easily see a future where the QB causes more problems for Gang Green than he solves. Now if it were the Giants, taking Winston (likely in a latter round) would make sense. Why? Because Big Blue has a solid organization that can withstand and perhaps mold Winston into a solid citizen. However the Jets don’t have the reputation (or more importantly strong management backbone) to take such a risk.

So what I’m trying to say is perhaps this is Jackson’s first step into turning the Knicks into a more respectable organization.

Cronin: It seems pretty clearly that Jackson’s make or break moment will be what he will do this offseason with the cap space he is collecting. So I don’t think that this trade says a whole lot about Jackson one way or the other except that he has now made three real trades (not counting the luxury tax move of Travis Outlaw to open up a roster spot for Travis Wear) and they’ve all been…just okay. It would be nice to see a Knick trade be a clear win for once, but I can’t really begrudge Jackson much for that.

What he does this offseason will be the real test.

Ephus: To me, it says that Phil Jackson has no special place in his heart for CAA and its clients. That is a good thing.

Udwary: It tells us that we should temper our expectations a bit on the magic of Phil Jackson. As Knicks fans, we are too used to lopsided trades (although we’ve always been on the wrong side of them). This was a realistic return for the value we were sending out. I don’t think we should complain too loudly about that considering the trades we have been accustomed to.

On Basketball Reference’s Knicks page, I predicted “Cole Aldrich, this is your year.” Now that Aldrich is pretty much our defacto center for 2015, is this Cole’s year?

Kurylo: Oh God Yes!

Seriously though, here is Aldrich’s per-36 stats over the last 10 games (9 starts):
11.0 reb, 2.6 ast,1.6 atl,1.9 blk, 2.6 to, 3.9 pf,15.2 pts, 56.3% ts%

That’s good enough to be an NBA starter, no? Honestly, I’d like to see what the defense is like with Aldrich/Amundson together on the floor. I’ll work on my Candy Crush skills while the team is on offense.

Cronin: I worry that it might be so much his year that the Knicks might find themselves in a difficult situation regarding retaining Aldrich for next season. They have Early Bird Rights for Aldrich, but that only allows them to exceed the cap up to the Mid-Level Exception. The way Aldrich has been playing, he might get an offer for more than that and since the Knicks are definitely not cutting into their precious, precious cap space to bring Aldrich back, there is a possibility that Aldrich might play himself off the team. One thing I’d really like to see from Aldrich is for him to improve his conditioning. He’s been in the league for years now, there’s no excuse to have the stamina of Michael freakin’ Sweetney.

Ephus: During the off-season, I hoped that the Knicks would give Aldrich a two-year deal with the second year being a team option. I do not think he had a lot of alternative choices. Instead, they are going to have to bid for him. I think he is going to perform in the way that Koufas/Mozgov would in the same minutes. That probably gets a 3 year MLE deal.

Udwary: Hell yes! Assuming Cole doesn’t keel over to a heart attack, he is finally getting the minutes he deserves on this team, and is producing as he always has. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of offers Cole will get at the end of the year, but he is at the very least a capable 20-25 minute backup and someone should offer him more than the veterans minimum. So far, he is also the poster child of the value of per minute statistics, and vindication for all the Knickerbloggers who have been yelling his name the past two seasons.

It’s the year 2025. Give us your summary of Shumpert’s NBA career up to this point.

Kurylo: Well it appears that former Knicks Iman Shumpert’s basketball career is over. Shumpert Facetweettubed his retirement from his Cuban villa. The former Knick, Cavalier, and King made his name on the basketball court as an All Star in China and then later in Germany playing for Dirk Nowitzki’s owned and coached championship team, Bayern Munich. In the U.S., Iman received notoriety for his testimony in the J.R.Smith trial, where Shumpert’s detailed J.R.’s erratic behavior was publicized by an HBO documentary: “Basketball Star to Porn Star: The Story of J.R. Smith”. Shumpert considered playing for Robert Kraft’s Pyongyang’s Patriots, but politely declined the offer.

Cronin: His career has seemingly matched the Knicks’ seasons as a whole in his four years in the league. In his first year, he was an exciting player with seemingly a lot of potential. In his second year, he was just flat out good but injuries took their toll. In his third season, he was very disappointing. And in his fourth season, he was injured and godawful.

Ephus: Shumpert looked like a great basketball player, but the results were never as good as the appearance. He was a walking contradiction. Great one-on-one ball defender who could not get over screens. Super athlete who could not finish in traffic. Gregarious rapper who was super-sensitive to criticism. But there were stretches when he could light up the court. He never lived up to the 4 year / $32 million contract that Utah gave him, but he has become a beloved member of the SLC community.

Gibberman: Confusing. Watching him airplane the Boston Celtics home in the first-round of the 12-13 playoffs is probably the top Knicks moment of the last 15 years. In those playoffs versus the Celtics and Pacers you saw exactly how Shumpert could be a positive contributor on very good teams. Play solid defense with knock down spot up shooting from three-point range. After Anthony kept them in Game 6 versus the Pacers, Shump was the one in the second half who almost stole the win turning into a blazing ball of fire behind the arc. Fun times, man.

Udwary: Shumpert is an easy guy to root for, but at this point of his career he seems to be a mediocre NBA player. At best he is a defensive specialist who won’t kill you with high usage chucking. The complete lack of development in his offensive game through his first 4 years is telling. He just isn’t a good shooter, and despite his great athleticism, he has a difficult time finishing at the rim. He’s one of those players that you look at and believe that he has so much potential, and he just needs to “put it all together”, then you realize he’s an 11 year veteran on the downside of his career. I will definitely miss rooting for him, but he wasn’t ever going to be a major contributor on this team going forward.

Grade the trade on a scale 1-5.

Kurylo: I give it a 3. I don’t think the Knicks have gotten better in a tangible sort of way. However I like the direction this takes the team. Shumpert has been untapped potential that never really emerged. J.R. Smith has long outstayed his welcome. In one sense I would have liked to see another pick or even a decent per-minute guy come back to New York. But then again I want this team to lose as many games as possible.

Cronin: 2.5. It’s not bad but nor is it good. The return for Shumpert was underwhelming, but I understand that $2 million of cap room was a big deal for Jackson, so it probably was something that needed to be done.

Ephus: 3.5. I believe that JR Smith has the gifts to be the second best player on a strong playoff team. He is literally his own worst enemy. And it was going to get really ugly around here. Shumpert is going to command at least Avery Bradley money this off-season, which the Knicks clearly did not want to pay. I expect both JR and Shumpert to have games that make us wonder, “What might have been?” But, I doubt that either would have been a useful part of the team going forward. And JR might have exploded at any moment.

Gibberman: 1. They got nothing, literally nothing for two guys that have been proven NBA rotation players. If the money gets used effectively this summer I reserve my right to make that number higher. If the money gets used poorly I’m making it a -5000.

Udwary: 3.0. It is what it is. They got back something they value (cap space) for two players that didn’t fit into their long term plans. I wouldn’t say it’s a good or bad trade. We’ll see how they fill out the open roster spots for the rest of the year, and how they use the cap space this trade generated.

6-on-5 Roundtable: Melo and Beyond

Image courtesy of cooldesign / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of cooldesign / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Knicks and Carmelo Anthony agreed to a contract this weekend, a 5-year deal for $124 million, a player option on the final year and a no-trade clause.. The deal–which will color every move the organization and new president Phil Jackson make over the next half-decade–was such big news that we had to break out the roundtable; an illegal roundtable in basketball terms, in fact. We’re going 6-on-5 to discuss whether the Knicks overpaid, what the move says about Jackson’s reign, and what to expect from the team this year and beyond.

1. Is 5 years, $122.5 million (or so) an overpay for Carmelo Anthony? If so, was it worth it to sign him anyway?

Dan Litvin: Objectively, I don’t think it was an overpay, because salaries for the best players are artificially capped. In the context of the CBA however, his contract does create challenges. It’s going to escalate in cost at the same time he’s likely to be declining in skill, and that inflation will limit the team’s ability to add pieces around him. On the other hand, I think fans should be pleased (if initial reports are correct) that he decided to take less to help management facilitate additional moves, particularly next summer. He didn’t have to do that but he clearly understands some of the burdens the CBA (unfairly) places on the league’s best players.

Jonathan Topaz: In a vacuum, this will likely prove to be an overpay. An average annual salary of more than $24 million a year is a lot for a one-way player on the wrong side of 30, regardless of his brilliance on offense. Melo is somewhere between a top-10 and top-15 player in the NBA — if you like PER, he’s more a top-7 player; if you prefer win shares, he’s more like a top-15 guy. He’s a great and flawed player, a perennial All-Star but not a once-in-a-generation talent, a player you hate to give up but whose contract is bound to get ugly when he is a 34-year-old making $27 million a year. The last two years of this deal will almost certainly be painful. And Melo isn’t quite special enough to make up for it value-wise in the first three. I still think it’s worth it (more on that in a bit).

David Vertsberger: Perhaps, but it was worth it. The Knicks aren’t in a dead-in-the-water position, they have a first round pick this year and a handful of young pieces with upside. Their books are almost completely wiped clean next summer, and Anthony’s still got at least two to four years left in his prime. There’s no reason to begin a complete rebuild when one of the league’s elite is at your doorstep ready to sign.

Robert Silverman: Since the Lakers did have an offer for 4 years/97 million, I have to say no. Of course, I wish he would’ve re-upped for something in the neighborhood of 5/100–that’s still a Gramercy Park duplex-level neighborhood–but the market determined what Melo’s value is/was, and in the end, I’m glad that he’s back. If you’d like to read more as to why I’m so tickled, I wrote a bunch of words over at VICE Sports.

Gus Crawford: Overpay? Yes. Worth it? Compared to the alternatives, it looks like it was the right path to take. Melo’s options narrowed down to Chicago and New York, and with the Bulls toeing a fine financial line and unlikely to fork out any assets of significance in a sign-and-trade scenario, retaining him for that price steadies the Knicks’ position ahead of the 2015 free agency window.

Kevin McElroy: Prices are market-determined and there were multiple teams in this market prepared to max Melo out.  I don’t believe that the Knicks paid much/any more than they had to pay to keep him.  

2. Let’s say you were the Knicks GM, and you couldn’t get a sign-and-trade deal worked out or convince Melo to sign for less than this contract. Would you have signed him for the (almost) max or let him walk for nothing?

Litvin: I vacillated greatly on this subject over the last several months. Coming off a dreadful 37-win campaign, I thought the Knicks could be terrible without Melo, and the best course may have been to bottom out rather than tread water. I stuck with that view into free agency but with every day that passed I felt more uncertain. Every time I read that Melo was giving serious consideration to another team a sense of dread enveloped me. I don’t know if that is because being spurned by a superstar who couldn’t handle incompetent management would have been embarrassing and quintessentially Knicksian, or because I genuinely wanted him to stay. But I think if push came to shove I would have given him every cent. Whatever the reason, I’m glad he’s still here.

Topaz: I would have signed him, but it’s complicated. A very tricky part of this deal is Melo’s depreciating value. He is a 30-year-old entering into his 12th NBA season who led the league in minutes per game last year (the rest of top 5 were all players 25 or under — thanks, Coach Woodson!) In other words, the Knicks have to get better fast to maximize their chances before Anthony’s performance declines. It’s a tall order, but the Knicks will have cap room next summer and a more thoughtful front office running the show. This contract isn’t an ideal situation, and ownership likely missed a major opportunity to trade Anthony during last year’s comedy of errors of a season. But letting an elite player walk for free — particularly when the market this summer indicated the team will likely be able to trade him at some point if they so choose— would have been unnecessary.

Vertsberger: I’d sign him. Again, I like the position the Knicks are in. It’s one primed to have at the very least a Playoffs team in 2015-16, maybe something better. While teams continue to struggle putting together a package suitable for Minnesota to give up Kevin Love and lose out on this summer’s top free agents, the Knicks have their guy, one whose talent is very difficult to replace.

Silverman: I don’t think letting him walk and getting zip back would’ve been good, so no.

Crawford: Key word there is “almost.” It sounds as if Melo has agreed to a slightly below max-level deal — which is nice — but the most important detail will be his salary for 2015-16. If the Knicks were able to convince him to stagnate or slightly reduce his Year 2 figure, then re-upping him was the right maneuver. Slapping a five-year, $129M full-max albatross atop an already messy cap sheet is a whole other matter, though.

McElroy: I would have signed him.  As I wrote over at The Cauldron, Melo’s skill set makes him a better fit for the primary perimeter role in the triangle offense than anyone else the Knicks would have been likely to sign with the cap space they would’ve saved over the next five years by letting Melo walk.  More than that, the value that the rest of the market seemed to place on Melo bodes well for what he represents as a trade commodity if the Knicks decide they want out of the deal at any point.  If, 2 years from now, the Knicks are still mired in mediocrity, you’ve gotta think the Knicks and Melo would both be amenable to a trade and you would hope that they’d be able to get at least a couple of minor assets for him.

3. With all due respect to Derek Fisher, how to deal with Melo was far and away Phil Jackson’s biggest decision in his first summer in charge. How’d he do? And does his handling of this shed any light on what type of executive the Zen Master might be?

Litvin: I can only speculate, but it seems Phil played the game shrewdly. Melo opened the door to taking less, and Phil jammed his foot into it by pressuring Melo to actually follow through. He also seemed to have taken leverage away from both Melo and Chicago by making it known that he would not engage in sign-and-trade discussions should Melo have chosen the Bulls. I think Phil has done a good job as President and his handling of the Melo negotiations bodes well for the future.

Topaz: It was an odd scene last week: Phil Jackson — winner of 11 NBA championships, master of Zen, tamer of nature, wearer of backpacks — telling reporters Melo hadn’t returned any of his recent text messages. It was a reminder that in today’s NBA, even the most royal of senior citizens takes a backseat to the league’s superstars, who wield an almost unprecedented amount of leverage. We’ll see how much money Melo ends up leaving on the table, but given his many attractive suitors and seemingly predetermined decision to opt out, I’m not sure if this ordeal tells us much about Jackson. If anything, it tells us a bit more about Anthony — namely that Jackson, who has coached wing players named Jordan and Bryant to multiple NBA titles, thinks Melo is worthy of the max.

Vertsberger: We obviously don’t know in the inner workings of Phil Jackson’s negotiations with Anthony, but I like how he handled the situation with the public. Confident, assuring, not afraid to say “if we lose him, we lose him.” It’s unfortunate that he couldn’t get Anthony to take a smaller deal, but I’m not so sure any GM could. Some may have not even been able to re-sign Anthony. If this tells us anything about Jackson though, is that he must either think highly of Melo as a star, or wants to avoid a total overhaul at all costs.

Silverman: I think the Chandler-Calderon trade actually says a lot more about his GM’ing skillz. He got good value for a player that I kind of think is about to enter a serious decline; considering how much of Tyson’s game is built on speed and athleticism, he could drop off pretty quickly. We already saw what happened when he was a half step slow this season, and he’s never going to be the DPOY that prowled the lane like a wild-eyed, ravenous tiger shark again. Considering his injury history, I think dumping him now was absolutely the right thing to do. Netting two picks in a loaded draft, a nifty prospect in Larkin and dumping Felton? That’s a pretty darn good first step.

And then he brought back Aldrich. No one’s talking about that (understandable, given the hurly-burly of the last 48 hours) but I think he’s going to be really valuable this year. I loved watching him operate in the Triangle in the first SL tilt, and it’s always worth it to roll the dice on a lottery pick “bust.”

But to the question at hand. It wasn’t an ideal situation. If he really tried to squeeze Melo to take a serious cut, I think he would’ve walked—taken his talents all the way to Sunset Boulevard, if you will. He got him to take less and while that’s not the absolute idea result, in this instance, I think perfection is the enemy of progress.

Crawford: Jackson has always made the public forum his domain, peppering the press corps with salty one-liners and teetering between backhanded compliments and his trademark Zen wisdom. From Day 1, his candor on the media front has instilled an authoritative presence for the organization, and signalled a shift away from the days of the Knicks grovelling at the feet of agents across the league. Sure, his private stance may have (and likely did) differ, but I couldn’t find much fault in the first flirtations in the Melo-Phil romance. If that’s any indicator of his executorial MO, sign me up.

McElroy: Jackson did his job here but I don’t think it was a particularly difficult decision.  Clearly, his sales pitch was good enough but that’s not the toughest thing to do when you can outbid the competition by a couple dozen million dollars.  Once Melo was willing to come back, his retention was a formality; I doubt any other current NBA GM would have behaved differently.  In my opinion, the Chandler trade was far more illuminating of Jackon’s creativity and team-building philosophy.

4. With this signing and the Tyson Chandler deal, next year’s roster is basically set, though the Knicks still have a mini-MLE available. It’s obviously very early, but how does next year’s team look?

Litvin: Very Melo-centric. He still needs help. Phil’s best triangle teams always had a top-notch second fiddle. Who is the Knicks’ second best player? Try not to think too hard about that because the answer may scare you. That said, I still think the Knicks can field an efficient offense. Their defense will be a serious concern though. There is going to be a heavy toll on Iman Shumpert, Dalembert will have to limit his tendency to gamble for blocks and Cole Aldrich is going to have to be physical. Most importantly, Melo is going to have to set an example.

Topaz: Not great, but it could be fun. There will certainly be some ugly moments — young rotation players, a potentially rocky adjustment to the Triangle, and a first-year head coach. This team will really struggle on defense without Chandler (and with an injury-prone Samuel Dalembert taking his place). But they could surprise people on offense. Calderon is a high-efficiency, low-turnover point guard and a wonderful shooter, and the smaller team and lack of frontcourt depth will likely push Melo back to everyone’s favorite spot for him at the power forward position. Those changes alone, plus a coaching change that might mean fewer minutes for Andrea Bargnani and better lineups in general, will likely bump this team up from last season. They seem like an on-the-bubble playoff contender in the East.

Vertsberger: Terrible, but at least it’ll be fun terrible unlike last year’s “I want to put something sharp in my eye” terrible. We’ll get to see Carmelo in an actual NBA offense, with Calderon – an actual NBA point guard – commanding the floor and bombing home threes. I imagine the young guys will get loads of playing time, if only to become more intriguing trade assets. That’s going to be fun to watch too. Now I just have to pray that Andrea Bargnani doesn’t play, unless he’s in to get in Kevin Garnett’s grill.

Silverman: It’s interesting. I’ve been chatting with some fine hoops minds on the Twitter about whether or not this is a playoff team as presently constructed. Right now, I’m going to say no. The East has gotten kind of deep all of a sudden. Indiana (assuming Stephenson returns), Cleveland, and Chicago are all pretty evenly matched at the top. And then there’s the somewhat equally ranked Toronto-Washington-Atlanta-Charlotte-Miami quintet. The Knicks certainly could bust into that grouping, but right now, this looks like a lottery team, even if they’ll be improved over last season, while winning about the same number of games.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Getting a stab at a top-3 draft choice, working to learn Fish’s system and seeing which players on the roster actually do make sense together is hardly a wasted year.

Crawford: It’s an improvement on the inferno of this past season, but there are still gaping holes. The roster is scarily thin up front, and not much has taken place to shore up the defensive side of the ball. I don’t think 2014-15 is going to mean much, in context. One positive of the makeover is the role of José Calderón, which I covered here.

McElroy: If they don’t sign anyone for the Mini-MLE, I think they’ll be 5 or 6 wins better than they were last year. I’m building in a likely coaching upgrade (although that’s entirely based on Woodson’s incompetence; Fisher remains an unknown quantity) and a much better fit of personnel to system.  I’m offsetting those improvements with the downgrade from Chandler to the center-by-committee that they have in place right now as well as the potential for worse injury luck than they had last year (or, frankly, BETTER luck with Bargs’ health; the fewer games he plays, the better).  Put me down for 42 wins, although there’s certainly some upside there.

5. The front office and coaching staff has gone through a major, major change this summer. What do you think their long-term plan is beyond this year? How will (or should) the organization approach the next several years?

Litvin: This time next year is obviously a fulcrum in Phil’s plan. The Knicks will likely have maximum salary cap space to get Melo some help. Marc Gasol is obviously everyone’s main target, but I’m worried the well may dry up before the summer comes around. That said, you can do more with cap space than just spending it on free agents. For example the Lakers just landed an expiring contract in Jeremy Lin and a first round pick because they were able to help the Rockets clear room. Another event that shouldn’t be overlooked is the expected jump in the salary cap associated with the NBA’s new forthcoming TV deal. If the cap jumps because of a rich new broadcast deal, look for the Knicks to have additional cap space beyond just 2015.

Topaz: As I said above, Melo is only getting older. In this five-year window, the team’s best shot might be in 2015, when Anthony will just be a year older and the Knicks will have maximum-level cap space (and perhaps a lottery pick from 2015.) Melo’s declining age is the real downside of this deal. The Knicks have an excellent star; some fun young pieces in Tim Hardaway Jr., Cleanthony Early, and Iman Shumpert; impending cap space; and a young, new coach. But Anthony’s contract could be a real liability at age 33, and as fun as it is to have some young talent and lowered expectations in 2014, this team needs to start winning and winning quickly in 2015. Things might not look so chipper in 2017 or 2018. As this five-year journey begins with Melo and Fisher, it is Jackson’s tall order to build a roster that miximizes his star’s years on the back end of his prime before things turn sour.

Vertsberger: From what I can tell, the plan is to score Carmelo Anthony some surrounding pieces in 2015 free agency to create a contender. Apart from this, I’m not so sure. I assume the plan B is trading Melo if the Knicks swing and miss that summer, and it may not even be Jackson’s choice. Carmelo has his max contract, now it’s just about getting his championship. If he thinks the Knicks can’t get it done, he may look for an out. At which point it’ll probably be time for the Knicks to go through a true rebuild from the ground up. Whatever the case, I’m pretty darn excited.

Silverman: Build a winning culture. Yes, it’s such a hoary sports cliche it practically is analog, but the thing about cliches is, if you stare at them long and hard enough, you’ll realize that there’s some seriously sharp teeth of truth. You can miss it, what with those canines being hidden behind a yellow smiley face button of a saying, but a winning culture is a real thing–getting a disparate group of individuals to work and sacrifice towards a common goal, often at the expense of the component parts’ individual happiness takes time.

The Spurs have it. The Heat have it. The Pacers had it before it all came tumbling apart in a venomous see of finger pointing and possible girlfriend bedding.

So yep. That’s the plan. Should be fun to watch.

Crawford: TRIANGLE. Uh, sorry. It’s encouraging to see some degree of harmony between the front office and those on the sidelines, at very least. Even if you’re skeptical as to whether Phil can ride out the entirety of his five-year deal, you’ve got to be optimistic about the foundations that he is laying. Aside from personnel changes, the introduction of a single affiliation D-League team is the priority. The Westchester Knicks can evolve into the fertilizing system not just for future Knicks players, but for the style of play that the franchise wishes to adopt long-term. 

McElroy:: I would expect that if the Knicks’ plan was to try to improve this year’s team at the expense of the future, their notoriously leaky front office would have let some rumors slip by now surrounding the the divesting of Bargs’ and STAT’s contracts. My expectation, and hope, is that they will allow those contracts to expire after this season, make a push for Kevin Love or Marc Gasol next summer (if either is a realistic option; if not, getting a quality big will remain priority #1) and try to acquire and develop a young point guard, likely through the draft.