My Offer For KG

Coming home from work yesterday, I thought I had my night planned. I had some painting I needed to do, which I would finish by 7:30. At that point I would kick back a few beers, order some dinner, and give my full attention to the Knicks-Mavericks game. Of course my best laid plans were thwarted by two foes. The first being my wife who had the “we need to get out of the house look on her face.” Her request was understandable. The weekend storm had brought a handful of weary traveling friends and family to our house. For a few days we were the keepers of an impromptu hostel.

The second interruption to my planned evening was an email from Henry Abbott. The email said that there was a group of bloggers representing their teams in a post-season online bid for Kevin Garnett. My job, should I accept it, was to come up with a deal that would get the Big Ticket in blue & orange. However the trade would be compared to the other offers by different bloggers, and the best one accepted. With an opportunity to play the Knicks GM, I felt as if I couldn’t refuse.

The first question I asked myself is would the Knicks want Garnett? On the negative side of the ledger, Garnett is going to be 31 by next year. Certainly his best years are behind him. Currently his PER is at 25.5, which is lower than last year’s PER. In fact should that number stay, it would be his fourth straight year in decline. Garnett has been in the league since he was 19, so his body has seen its fair share of wear and tear.

On the other hand Kevin Garnett is still a fantastic talent. He is a perennial All Star, earning a berth every possible year since he was 20 years old. Additionally Garnett has been named to 7 All NBA Teams, 7 All NBA Defense Teams, and won an MVP award in 2004. Even with his dwindling PER, Garnett is 6th overall in the league, still among the league’s best. And although he has played over 30,000 minutes Garnett should age well. He has been extremely durable, and hasn’t missed more than 6 games in any season. The 6’13” forward has another advantage: taller players age better than ones that are dependent on their speed & quickness.

It seems quite obvious that Garnett is the type of player that the Knicks could use at this stage. Since arriving in New York, Isiah has been looking for a star to mold this team around. Originally it was Stephon Marbury, and now it seems to be Eddy Curry. However neither player seems to be talented enough to be the core of a winning team. Currently the Knicks have a host of talented players, but lack the superstar that will take them to the next level. No Knick on the roster has a ceiling as high as Garnett’s over the next 2-3 years. New York seems to have made baby steps, but they’ve failed to show any major improvements over that span. While Thomas has escaped the guillotine this year, another 30-something win season won’t cut it next year. The pressure will be on to win in 2008.

So with my sights set on Garnett, I have to wonder how he would fit in on this team. His shooting touch doesn’t extend to the three point line, but he can score from inside or outside. But Garnett isn’t just a scorer, he is a consummate player that can rebound, handle the ball, and most importantly defend. None of the current trio of front court players (Curry, Frye, and Lee) are particularly good defenders. Garnett would mask Curry’s weaknesses on defense and under the glass, and the duo would create defensive nightmares for opponents. Meanwhile a Frye and Garnett duo would present the Knicks with a quick a versatile front court that can score from anywhere inside the arc. Both of these Knicks can play center, which would allow Garnett to stay at his preferred position at power forward.

Unfortunately for Knick fans, that means David Lee would be my odd man out. While Lee is the most productive Knick, he doesn’t mesh well with Garnett. Both are strong rebounders, so the team would see diminishing returns, much like adding Ben Wallace to an already strong defensive Bulls team. Additionally Lee’s ability makes him the most coveted Knick, which would increase the chances the Knicks would receive Garnett. While Lee has the most potential of any Knick, at this point it’s still just that. He’s a wonderful rebounder, finishes well around the hoop, and has a nack for passing. But he’s still a bit off from being an All Star caliber player, nevertheless a franchise player like Garnett.

If Minnesota were to trade their franchise player, it would mean that they have finally comitted to rebuilding. Looking at their salary cap situation, it seems that taking Marko Jaric off their hands would be most helpful. Jaric’s contract runs until 2011, and is 5th highest on the team. Unfortunately the Knicks won’t have any expiring contracts this summer, so they can’t offer any instant relief. Malik Rose is the closest the Knicks can offer in cap relief. His contract expires in 2009, a year before Blount, Hudson, James or Hassell. To make contracts match I would have to add either Steve Francis or Stephon Marbury. Considering that trading for Marbury would be a huge public relations hit in Minnesota, I chose Francis. And to sweeten the pot I’ve thrown in Nate Robinson.

So my offer would be Lee, Francis, Robinson, and Malik Rose to the Timberwolves for Garnett and Jaric.

When I first got Henry’s email, I did a little brainstorming and Brian Cronin wrote back “The SLIGHTEST chance the Knicks have would be a package of Frye, Balkman, Crawford, Richardson, Robinson and the next draft pick they are allowed to trade (maybe some second rounders, too). It works cap-wise, but would the Wolves even slightly consider it?” However this would leave the Knicks with a lineup of:

C: Curry/James
PF: Garnett/Lee/Rose
SF: Jeffries/Lee?
SG: Francis/Collins
PG: Marbury/Collins

This would give the Knicks a front court duo of Curry & Garnett, with the option of using Lee off the bench or at the 3. But we would have no depth at any of the other positions. An injury at any the guard or swingman spots would doom the team. And who knows if Francis’ “tendonitis” will flair up again, which would leave us without a shooting guard. By trading only Lee & Robinson the lineup is a more palatable:

C: Curry/Frye/James
PF: Garnett/Frye
SF: Richardson/Balkman/Jeffries
SG: Crawford/Richardson/Jaric
PG: Marbury/Collins/Jaric

In this version, the Knicks are solid at the center & both forward spots, with quality and depth at all spots. Both guard spots could use some more depth, but I left the Knicks with their first round pick and the MLE to get a pair of guards here. More importantly a Garnett led Knicks, with this supporting cast would be among the top teams in the weak East. For the first time in years, Knick fans would have their sights set a bit higher than jockeying for that last playoff spot and a first round kick in the ass.

I could live with this trade, but the question is would the Timberwolves accept? I’ve given Minnesota a bit of cap space (Rose), a possible future All Star (Lee) that the fans will love (much like they do here), a former All Star (Francis) and an exciting young player (Robinson). Check out TrueHoop (now at ESPN) to see.

Other team’s offers:
Lakers offer.
Celtics offer.
Bulls offer?
Warriors offer.

The Dead Zone

For good or bad, the Knicks have had their share of exciting stories this year. Over the summer New York acquired Eddy Curry, a 23 year old center with heart problems. They’ve grabbed one of the best coaches in the game in Larry Brown, and the Knicks have no shortage of young players. For a few months Channing Frye was one of the forerunners in the Rookie of the Year award. Slam Dunk Champion Nate Robinson is the 5-foot-something guard who combines a football player’s mentality with a childish enthusiasm for the game. David Lee, a solid rebounder, had a dunk last week against the Hawks that showed he might be worth more than the average 30th round pick.

Second year player Jackie Butler just turned old enough to buy beer legally and shows plenty of promise for someone that never played a game in college. That Butler has made it into the big show at all is a story of itself, and if he can stick around in this league it would be an incredible achievement. Those that have read the Last Shot know how perfectly aligned everything has to be to make the NBA and how hoop dreams end more like Darryl Flickling’s than Stephon Marbury’s. A similar statement could be said for Qyntel Woods, who is running out of teams to make himself unwelcome on.

The Knicks picked up Jerome James who would give them size in the middle, something they’ve desperately needed since the days of Camby & Ewing. At the small forward spot Quentin Richardson had the most 3 pointers made in 2005, and the recently acquired Jalen Rose is versatile on the offensive end. My least favorite player last year, Jamal Crawford, has shown immense improvement in his weakest area: shot selection. And finally Steve Francis is a 3 time All Star, and his arrival gives the Knicks an odd scoring punch in the backcourt.

So, how can a team with so many interesting stories field such a boring team? There are too many offensive plays where the ball ends up in the stands. Too many times two players end up in the same spot. On defense, when the Knicks aren’t allowing their opponents an easy path to the rim, they’ve giving them a second chance to complete the job. Too often they’re down by 12 in the first, and you know they’re not coming back.

Knick-nation will spend the next 6 months arguing over who is to blame: Isiah Thomas for assembling a roster of overated players, Larry Brown’s inflexibile ways making a bad team the laughing stock in the league, or James Dolan for his emporer’s new clothes act. And while there is plenty of finger wagging to spread around to those three, as far as I’m concerned the onus for the on the court product belongs to the players and more specifically the veterans.

There seems to be a general malaise among the non-rookies. Against Toronto there was one play that sticks out in my mind, a defensive rebound that bounced past Eddy Curry, Jalen Rose, and Steve Francis before ending up in Raptor hands. These were three veterans with a combined 24 years of experience, and none of them knows that if they see a basketball bouncing past them that it’s a good idea to secure it. It’s ironic, because in that same game Nate Robinson went full speed into the scorer’s table chasing the rock, sending a pile of papers into the air in a failed attempt. How is it that a rookie is setting the proper example in putting the extra effort to get another possession? The sloppy play and lack of effort makes the games painful to watch. The 2006 Knicks are like a Steven King novel, they’re a great read but awful when translated into video.

Isiah’s Latest Trade Is A No-Brainer

In terms of talent this trade is a no-brainer. Penny Hardaway is 6 years and 2 knees removed from his last good season. Meanwhile Trevor Ariza is a liability in the half court set, and unless you’re Ben Wallace it doesn’t normally work to play 4 on 5. Steve Francis can put the ball in the hoop, and is just a shade under 20 points per game for his career. He’s an excellent rebounder for a guard, and can dish the ball as well. In other words Francis is a nice addition to your fantasy team. But in the real world, Stevie Franchise joining the Knicks is a fantasy only for the rest of the league.

There’s more to consider about the Knicks’ latest trade than just talent. Francis comes with a franchise sized contract that tops out at $17M before expiring in 2009. Adding Francis’ contract to Marbury’s, Richardson’s, Crawford’s, and Jerome James’ means New York will be over the cap until 2009. Grabbing another long term deal in Francis shows the Knicks are committed to never being under the cap. If that doesn’t signal the end of the Knicks rebuilding plans, then there’s always the sobering reality that they traded a player who has yet to have his first legal beer for a 29 year old former All Star. With the deal boiling down to Ariza & a piece of paper with Penny Hardaway’s signature on it for Francis, it’s hard to argue that the Knicks are trying to get younger anymore.

Meanwhile it’s clear that Francis isn’t a complimentary player for this Knicks team. Just about the last player New York needs is another low percentage-turnover prone-needs the ball in his hands-player. Throw in that a Francis-Marbury backcourt means that every night one opposing guard will have an unobstructed view to the hoop, and it means that the Knicks defensive woes will just get worse. As for demeanor, Francis pouted his way through the first half of this season for a bad Orlando team under strict disciplinarian Bob Hill. I would have paid to see the look on Steve’s face when he was told he was sent to the only team in the league having the combination of a worse record and stricter coach. [KnickerBlogger ASCII artist rendition of that face :-\ ]

Ardent Isiah supporters point to how much more talented Francis is, and how easy it will be to move Taylor & Rose with their expiring contracts over the summer. But I have to ask, what kind of players will Isiah get by dangling those players in front of the league’s GMs? Don?t you think if Steve Francis was worth more than an expiring contract and a raw twenty year old, the Magic would have taken that deal instead? Using the expiring contract technique the Knicks have only been able to grab players who have one foot out the door in their current city. Marbury, Crawford, Curry, Rose, Taylor, James, Richardson, and Francis all come from teams desperate to get rid of them. The Knicks haven’t been able to get players that fit their needs. Instead New York can only acquire the league’s undesirables.

So while Francis is better than both players the Knicks shipped away for him, he’s doesn’t he add to the team’s trading flexibility. Nor does he become more valuable after another year in his third team. Nor does he fit into any rebuilding plans. Francis doesn’t even address the team most important on the court needs.

Yup sounds like a no-brainer to me.

Swift, Brown, and Fun With Logos

SWIFT

Stromile Swift just signed with the Houston Rockets for the mid level exception. Swift is 4 years younger than Jerome James, and has a career Player Efficiency Rating that is 5.6 points higher. James has a higher block rate and better shooting percentage, and that’s it. Swift is better in every other category including half the foul rate. I’m not going to say that Isiah could have signed him, because Swift might have preferred Houston over New York. But how did the two end up with the same salary? You’d at least think that somehow the Knicks could have gotten a better deal. That’s like buying a Big Mac & finding out a Jackson Hole 7oz burger is the same price.

BROWN
Hearing about Larry Brown and the Pistons, did any New Yorkers have flashbacks to Bill Parcels? I’m not going to say that Brown would solve all of New York’s problems, but I will say that Parcels did turn around the Jets. If it wasn’t for him, I’m convinced the Jets would rival the Arizona Cardinals for futility in the NFL.

PISTONS LOGO

So the Detroit Pistons have designed a “new” logo:

As you can see it looks almost exactly like their old logo. Is someone going to tell me that people prefer a logo that:
* is simple
* uses primary colors instead of pastels
* doesn’t have a horse
* doesn’t have automobile exhausts
* doesn’t have flames coming out of the above mentioned horse and exhausts
* has legible text instead of oddly angled 3d fonts

My theory is that they had this logo for years, but since it looked so much like their old logo, they needed something garish in-between. And I’m sure the owners of the Pistons are upset that everyone who bought a jersey, hat, t-shirt, bobblehead doll, beer cozy, etc. may feel the need to rid themselves of the old item & purchase a brand new one.

Four Players That Need More Time

In today’s article, I’ll identify 4 guys who were productive last year, but didn’t see enough minutes from their team. All of them are big men, and two have been playing well for two or more seasons now.

Dan Gadzuric

By definition, the league average for John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is 15. Last year despite only playing 22 minutes per game, Gadzuric managed a PER of 18.5. The next person on the list was Michael Redd. Ironically Redd just received a 6 year $90M+ contract from the Bucks, while Gadzuric will play for the same 6 years, but for $54M less. Doesn’t seem fair does it? Just the other day, the APBRmetric board was discussing this very topic. That is that teams tend to overpay for guys with good pts/g, and that if a Moneyball type executive wanted to exploit the NBA, this would be good place to start.

If given a fair chance, he could easily step in & start for 20 teams in the NBA. Maybe even 25 teams. While I have no delusions that Gadzuric would be an All Star, it seems a waste in a league where centers are at a premium. Just looking back over the last few years of free agency, mediocre 7 footers like Foyle, Dampier, and Olowokandi have received big deals for little production. Meanwhile, Dan has posted a PER above 17 for two straight years. An athletic player, he can hit the glass at both ends of the court, block shots, and come up with a steal. Gadzuric shoots at or above 50%, and has cut back on his fouls to a level where he could easily play 30-35 minutes a game. With the arrival of #1 overall pick Bogut, the Bucks may not need Dan more than the 22 minutes a game that they gave him last year. It’s a shame, because given quality minutes, this guy could really shine.

Al Jefferson

Just go to a Celtics forum, and mention the words “trade” and “Jefferson” in the same sentence. You might see some replies like:

heff: “blasphemy!”
Big Al: “Jefferson is basically the only untouchable player on the team right now”
Jahwei: “Another reminder. Kids, don’t do drugs.”

Well you get the picture. Despite 2005 being Jefferson’s first year in the league, and receiving only 15 minutes a game, he still put up a PER of 16.6. Oh and remember this kid can’t kick back with a beer after the game until January, unless David Stern decides to play the Celtics home opener in Tijuana. As most youngling that enter the league, Jefferson was prone to turnovers and fouls. Considering that he can work on those numbers, he’ll be an asset for the Celtics next year. Jefferson is a fine rebounder, and ranked 19th in John Hollinger’s rebounding rate last year (with the above mentioned Gadzuric being 2nd). Doc Rivers was critical of Jefferson’s defense last year, which limited his minutes. If Al can hustle during preseason and get on his coach’s good side, Rivers might loosen the apron strings and be pleasantly surprised with the results he gets.

Mike Sweetney

How much longer will Mike be on these lists? Do I have to show up in the Garden with a “Free Mike Sweetney” sign? The guy had a 17.2 PER in his first year, despite spending the first few weeks on the IR behind such NBA luminaries like Clarence Weatherspoon and Othella Harrington. Still the Knicks only played him in 11 minutes per game. The year after Sweetney posts a 16.4 PER, despite playing against taller opponents at the five. Still the Knicks limit his minutes to under 20, whether or not he’s performing well.

Even this summer, with the Knicks trading Kurt Thomas, Sweetney’s hold on the PF position is tenuous. He’s been rumored to be traded for everyone from Antoine Walker to Kwame Brown. In last year’s Basketball Forecast, John Hollinger wrote “a good way to judge if the Knicks know what they’re doing is to see how long it takes for Sweetney to take Kurt Thomas’ job.” For this year’s book, Hollinger would be smart to copy & paste the same quote in, because a year later the Knicks still might not have figured out what they have. New York still has a glut of PFs, and it’s possible that Herb trots out Malik Rose, Jerome Williams, and Maurice Taylor often enough to limit Sweetney’s minutes again. However if given the chance to play 30 minutes a night, Big Mike will be a nice sleeper for those in fantasy basketball leagues that are looking for a double-double power forward.

Nick Collison

In 2003, just three picks after New York nabbed Mike Sweetney, the SuperSonics drafted Collison. Unfortunately the pick didn’t pay immediate dividends for Seattle, as Collison missed the season with surgery on both shoulders. Last year he rebounded back from his injuries, and had a PER of 15.0.

Collison took advantage of the Sonics open offense, and shot nearly 54%. Add to that an ability to draw contact, where he had a true shooting percentage of 57%, the same as Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard. Another reason to like Collison is that he upped his game during the playoffs. During the season he scored at a rate of 15.9 pts/48 minutes, but during the playoffs that average went up to 20.3. Getting more playing time next year shouldn’t be an issue for Nick. Seattle lost center Jerome James, and you never know what’s going to happen with volatile Danny Fortson.

Gnate and Nate?

My writing this week hasn’t been shedding Isiah Thomas’ latest move in a positive light. However one day after the draft would be a foolish time to continue to rain on the Knicks. Just one day after the draft Channing Frye is a future All Star, Nate Robinson is the backup PG that is better than half the starters in the league, and David Lee is going walk right in & fill Kurt Thomas’ shoes.

In fact despite railing on the deal just a few days ago, I was pretty excited when I heard that the Kurt Thomas trade was finalized because New York got Nate Robinson. No I haven’t changed my mind on the deal, because I think Richardson is an average player who doesn’t address the Knicks main needs. However if the deal had to go through, getting “Gnate” made it palatable. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the small guys. Years ago when Earl Boykins was a Net and Cavalier castoff I advocated from the top of my barstool that the Knicks should pick him up.

There are just so many reasons to like the diminutive player. I didn’t get to watch much of the NCAA tournament this year, but I saw at least one Washington game. Nate is one of those guys that you can’t help but keep your eyes on, because he will make something exciting happen. Although the Knicks do lack flash, I think Robinson can contribute as a solid player as well. Before going mainstream, the APBRmetric-minded Kevin Pelton gave him a nice write up over at draftcity.com. Meanwhile I can entertain thoughts in my head that Robinson will consider playing nickelback/kick returner for my beloved New York Jets.

Getting back to the Knicks I’m not sure whether they’ve solved their defensive problem. The reviews of Frye is that he’s a polished offensive player, but on defense the word “soft” has been thrown around. While he is a shot blocker, that talent doesn’t always translate from college to the pros. Knicks fans know that we’re not getting Tim Duncan or Tyson Chandler, but the answer to the question on exactly how much Frye can help solidify their D will have to wait. Obviously David Lee isn’t the defensive answer unless the Knicks trade Mike Sweetney (doh!) or Malik Rose (hooray!).

Even without getting another player, there is something Isiah and the Knicks can do to improve their defense: hire a defensive-minded coach. While I don’t believe that a coach can turn an awful defensive team into a stellar one, a good coach might be able to get the Knicks going in the right direction. Larry Brown would be a no-brainer, but there are two other possibilities that I wouldn’t mind New York considering. I know P.J. Carlesimo isn’t the popular choice in town, but he took the last ranked Warriors and turned them into an above average 12th in just two years. The Sprewell incident and sitting on the bench next to Emperor Popovich should make him a more experienced coach.

Nate McMillan’s contract should run out any second now. While the Sonics weren’t a defensive juggernaut, McMillan’s team made the most of what they had, had might have give the Spurs a run for their money had they not have a series of unfortunate injuries. Nate would give the Knicks their first legitimate coach since Jeff Van Gundy, and if he were able to bring over uber-consultant Dean Oliver it would be the icing on the cake. I?d still prefer a known commodity over guys like Herb Williams or Bill Laimbeer. With the draft out of the way, getting a coach should be the #1 priority on the Knicks list.