It’s Official: Knicks Are Rebuilding

For weeks Isiah Thomas has talked about rebuilding the Knicks. With New York heading into their 4th straight losing season the fans talked about it as well. All the talk of remodeling was just that: talk. Today with the trading deadline winding down, the Knicks made two deals that put the official stamp on the deal. The New York Knicks have formally begun the rebuilding process.

Chad Ford called both deals “awful” on ESPNNEWS, and a San Antonio Spurs Blog called Isiah Thomas a colossal idiot. However I think they’re not looking at the deals from a New Yorkers point of view. Before we make a rash judgment, let’s take a look at the Knicks situation.

The Knicks are tied to Allan Houston and the two and a half years left on his Dr. Evil-esque one hundred million dollar contract. Just three Knick guards, Houston, Marbury and Crawford, fill the Knicks salary cap until the summer of 2007. If my understanding of the CBA is correct, Houston would have to retire before July 1st of this year for the Knicks to get out of his contract a year early. Anyone who follows the Knicks, knows that Allan believes his career will miraculously rise again like Lazarus. So throw that idea out the window. Houston is not retiring, and the Knicks are over the cap until 2007.

That means dumping salary is meaningless,
unless the Knicks trade away Crawford, Kurt Thomas, Marbury, and Jerome Williams without taking on any salary beyond 2006. The chances of that are about the same as Alien vs. Predator winning the Oscar for best movie. Dumping salary before 2007 is just not a reasonable option for the rebuilding Knicks.

So what are New York’s viable options? The first is to dump contracts at all cost to get under the cap. In the end, this scorched earth approach would leave them worse off than an expansion team, especially if they have to trade Sweetney, Ariza, and their first this year to get someone to accept Houston’s millstone mega-contract. It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s that without any of their youth they could be in a long rebuilding process (see Bulls, Chicago 1999-2004)
The other option is to rebuild around a nucleus, and dump the rest. In two years it’s feasible that the Knicks can have a good team with Marbury, Ariza, Sweetney, Crawford, and two lottery picks. Apparently this is the route Isiah has chosen.

Isiah Thomas’ first deal is near genius. Parlaying Nazr Mohammed into two first rounders is exactly what this team needs. Nobody trades good young cheap players in the NBA, just look at how Philly got Webber without giving up Dalembert, Iguodala, or Korver. The draft is the only realistic way for the Knicks to get young cap friendly players. Are the traded picks going to turn into superstars? Most likely not, however if there is one area that Isiah Thomas excels at, it’s the draft (more on that another day).

Another positive is that Sweetney will inherit the starting center role. While most agencies are reporting that Kurt Thomas will slide back to the five like he did two years ago, I can’t recall a single time Crazy Eyes guarded the other team’s center this year. Regardless of who is covering who, Sweetney will see lots of minutes. If this is your first time here, let’s just say that I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. The guy can flat out play, and although I’m not keen on him matching up against much taller players, I’ll be happy with 30 minutes a night.

A lot of the ire received from the San Antoinio trade is that the Knicks are saddled by Malik Rose’s 4 year overpriced contract. However they’re already in cap hell until the end of the 2007 season, so the first three years are meaningless. New York can take on as much salary as they want until then. It’s his 4th year that’s a bit awkward, but remember Rose will be valuable as a $7M expiring contract. If the Knicks are competitive at that point, they can use Rose to get another veteran.

While the Knicks first deal is a no-brainer, the second is a head-scratcher. New York traded two end of the bench guys and a second round pick for a different end of the bench guy. Taylor’s huge contract runs 3 years, so it’ll be lumped with the others and becomes innocuous. I can understand Isiah’s rationale for making this deal. The Knicks need a frontcourt body to fill a vacancy, and that body was not going to be Vin Baker. Taylor will likely be the 4th big man, and maybe he can get back to the point where he was an average player (his rookie year). I just don’t agree with Thomas’ execution on this deal. The Knicks would be better suited digging through 10 day contract centers like Imelda Marcos going through her shoe closet. Jamal Sampson might be a good place to start.

While I’d be thrilled if the Knicks stopped after that first deal, I’m happy with the way the team is situated right now. New York now has both of their neophytes getting regular minutes. They have 4 first rounders in the next 2 years, with a GM that has a good eye for the draft. While the Knicks are in salary cap hell for 2 more years, the team isn’t entirely devoid of talent. Most importantly the Knicks have said loudly and clearly that they are rebuilding. Today, New York is in a better position than it was on Wednesday.

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Mike Kurylo

Mike Kurylo is the founder and editor of His book on the 2012 Knicks, "We’ll Always Have Linsanity," is on sale now. Follow him on twitter (@KnickerBlogger).

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