Nuggets 120, Knicks 118

To be honest, if before the season started I had known that the Knicks would drop this game, I wouldn’t have been too upset. The Nuggets have been a quality team for a number of seasons, and losing to them on the road would be no great problem. The problem is that I likely would have assumed that the Knicks entered the game with a better record than the 3-7 they sported as they entered the Pepsi Center this evening, a record made even more excruciating by the manner in which the Knicks have lost. Tonight’s loss was the Knicks’ fifth by five points or less, which doesn’t include the 21 pt blown lead in the game against Minnesota. The team is proving that it is good enough to make the game close, but also that they are still that play or two away from getting over the hump. Down by eleven points with just over six minutes left, the Knicks made up the difference in three minutes to tie the game at 109. From that point on, however, the Knicks missed six of their last nine shots, with only a Raymond Felton(19 pts 11 ast) three-pointer with one second left bringing the margin back to within two points. Quick thoughts from the box score:

  • If there was a positive to be taken away from tonight’s game, it was the continued emergence of Landry Fields into a bona fide starting guard in the NBA. Count me as among the optimists when it comes to Fields- he’s displayed an excellent ability to drive past his defender and finish at the rim, and his numbers tonight (21 pts on 15 fga and 17 reb) back up the data from the season thus far. Fields is an efficient scorer whom I’d love to see given more opportunities to display his previously-questioned-now-undeniable athleticism.
  • And the loser tonight? That distinction must belong to Roger Mason Jr., who managed an astonishing +/- of -11 in only six minutes of playing time. Mason looks nothing like the shooting guard who fearlessly fired three-pointers on San Antonio Squads earlier in the decade. His minutes could almost certainly be better divvied up between Fields and Bill Walker, giving Mason a nice seat next to Eddy Curry.
  • On the Nuggets side, rumored Knick-to-be Carmelo Anthony scored 26 points, requiring 21 shots to do so and turning the ball over five times. I leave it to you to decide if you’d be excited to trade for him.
  • Wilson Chandler contributed five blocked shots, keeping his average at an incredible 2.3 per game and putting him in the top ten in blocks per game in the NBA this season. Those critical of Ill Will’s efficiency may have been pleasantly surprised by his 23 points on 16 attempts, although one would like to see him corral more than one rebound.
  • Finally, Gallo’s shooting woes continued (6-19), though he did shoot 7-8 from the stripe to give him 21 pts.

All in all, the loss tonight puts pressure on the Knicks to take a game from the Kings in Arco Arena this Wednesday. If the Knicks are to truly be considered a playoff team in the East, it’s the type of game they need to win, not only to add a W to the win-loss column, but also to stop what is now a six-game losing streak.

Should Knick Fans Hope For Carmelo?

The NBA season is unique among American sport leagues, in that the action doesn’t come to an end once a champion is crowned. After the Finals, fans are bombarded with the draft, summer league, and free agency. One week after the Lakers won a championship, John Wall was drafted by the Wizards. Two weeks after that, LeBron James chose to leave Cleveland for the Miami Heat. If professional leagues were movies, the NFL and MLB would end with the cowboy gunslinger riding into the sunset. Whereas the NBA would show him entering the next town and sitting down at a card game. Fans of other sports can turn their thoughts elsewhere once the season is done. Meanwhile, basketball fans suffer from brain overload which might explain their overly speculative minds.

The overactive hoopster brain tends to imagine moves a team could make to get better. For Knick fans this summer, one such fantasy is New York building their own super powered team with Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony. These players are likely to seek max contracts, but are they worth it? New York has already signed Amar’e, so it seems pointless to discuss the merits of that deal. There is little doubt that Paul, when healthy, is one of the best players in the league. John Hollinger said midway into the 2008 season:

I submit that Paul is the MVP of the non-LeBron portion of the league thus far… Paul is on pace to have, arguably, the best season ever by a player 6-3 or smaller, and because of his small market and relatively unamazing per-game stats, absolutely nobody is even talking about it.

So it’s time for me to ring the bell. He plays before a minuscule fan base, gets zero national TV exposure and might not even make the playoffs, which is keeping his performance under the radar. But Chris Paul is having a historic season thus far. It’s about time somebody noticed.

But what about the third of the New York trioka, Carmelo Anthony? Is he someone Donnie Walsh should be targeting with a max contract? On the surface the answer seems to be an obvious yes. Anthony propelled Syracuse to a national title in his freshman year, and has been named to 4 All-NBA teams (thrice he was a third teamer and once a second teamer).

On the other hand, Anthony’s teams have failed to make a dent in the playoffs. In 6 of his 7 seasons, the Nuggets have exited after the first round. He’s a high volume scorer who doesn’t have great efficiency. Last year Anthony was a tad above the league average with regards to true shooting percentage (54.8%) but the year before he was under it (53.2%). When Carmelo can’t drive to the hoop he ends up settling for a long jumper. According to Hoopdata, last year he attempted nearly the same amount of shots in the paint (7.9 fga/36) as from 16-23 feet (7.1 fga/36). Carmelo might be an especially poor fit in Knicks’ offense. Coach D’Antoni’s teams take a fair number share of shots from behind the arc, and ‘Melo is subpar in that area. Only twice has he hit more than a third of his three pointers, and his career average is an anemic 30.8%.

Then of course is the question of his defense. Over the course of his career, it was thought that Carmelo was a subpar defender. Last year Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop delved deeper into the matter:

Individual defense is difficult to quantify, but I consult Aaron Barzilai to get a feel for what his +/- numbers can tell us about Carmelo’s D.

“Anthony seems to have been a liability in 2007-2008 but not in 2008-09,” Barzilai says. “Maybe that’s the story, he quietly became at least a neutral player on defense in the regular season.”

By liability, Barzilai means that the Nuggets were a little more than five points per 100 possessions worse defensively with Anthony on the floor in 2007-08. This season, though, it was a wash. (The numbers don’t s
how any appreciable improvement from the regular season to the playoffs). The numbers indicate that it might be a little early to start talking NBA All-Defense selection for Anthony, but a five-point bump in defensive adjusted +/- suggests real improvement, provided the trend holds for another season or two.

At the other end of the evaluative spectrum, I ask a scout for an NBA team to tell me if he’s seen the improvement in Carmelo’s defensive game we hear so much about during the broadcasts.

“It’s there. Carmelo’s buying into a role,” the scout says. “You see it when it comes to containing dribble-penetration and as a weak side defender off the ball. That’s one of the reasons his steals are up. Is he becoming a lockdown defender? No. But he’s grasping the team concepts in terms of defensive rotations, and that’s the big thing.”

This year, the Nuggets were 1.1 points worse defensively when Carmelo was on the floor. So it appears that Anthony is at best a league average defender, certainly nothing more. Considering that any path to the Finals will likely go through teams with LeBron James, Vince Carter, and Paul Pierce, having a mediocre defender at small forward is a liability.

If you’re still not convinced that Carmelo would be overpaid with a max deal, then I present his list of similar players:

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS eFG PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Carmelo Anthony 2010 DEN 22.2 54.8 47.8 26.6 2.1 6.2 3.0 1.2 0.4 2.9
.075 John Long 1982 DET 17.4 53.5 49.3 24.7 1.5 4.2 2.4 1.1 0.4 2.7
.075 Xavier McDaniel 1989 SEA 18.6 53.3 49.3 25.3 2.7 6.5 2.0 1.3 0.6 3.2
.091 Dominique Wilkins 1985 ATL 20.9 51.4 45.8 26.4 2.7 6.6 2.4 1.6 0.6 2.7
.094 Kelly Tripucka 1985 DET 16.7 54.8 47.8 22.5 1.4 4.7 2.9 1.1 0.3 2.5
.098 Mark Aguirre 1985 DAL 21.3 56.3 51.5 27.4 2.5 6.4 3.3 0.8 0.3 3.4
.105 David Thompson 1980 DEN 19.0 54.9 47.4 24.4 1.6 5.1 3.6 1.1 1.1 3.4
.105 Eddie Johnson 1985 KCK 16.2 54.2 49.6 22.3 1.8 4.8 3.2 1.0 0.3 2.7
.111 Billy Ray Bates 1982 POR 17.8 53.0 48.1 24.4 1.6 3.2 3.3 1.2 0.1 2.7
.119 Junior Bridgeman 1979 MIL 18.8 54.4 50.6 23.3 2.1 5.4 3.0 1.6 0.8 2.5
.127 Purvis Short 1983 GSW 17.6 53.4 48.9 21.6 2.2 5.3 3.4 1.4 0.2 2.9

If the ceiling is Dominique Wilkins, then it’s a list that’s damning with faint praise. Like ‘Melo, the Human Highlight Film was an inefficient high volume scorer. The rest of the list contains above average players, but no one I’d mortgage the future for. Compare this list to Amar’e Stoudemire’s who was similar to multiple hall of famers (Kevin McHale, Karl Malone, Alonzo Mourning and probable future HOFer Dirk Nowitzki).

Perhaps Anthony’s appeal is partially linked to the comparison principle; that is objects can be made to look better or worse depending on the other objects they are grouped with. After a season of free agency with multiple All Stars, ‘Melo is the only sure-fire All Star available in 2011. Next year after Anthony the best obtainable players are Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Jason Richardson, Shane Battier, and Michael Redd; guys who aren’t exactly household names. Although Carmelo is the most popular player of the bunch, the Knicks would be best served in passing on him and waiting for something better to come along. Carmelo is a high volume scorer with average efficiency and little else, therefore he fits the typical stereotype of overpaid NBA star. It would be like renting Jonah Hex thinking all cowboy movies were like 3:10 to Yuma. Perhaps when dreaming of that championship team, New Yorkers should suppress their overactive imagination to exclude Carmelo.

Thoughts About “The Decision”

As one of the millions spurned by the false advances of LeBron James, I know that it’s easy to get involved in the emotional aspect of “The Decision.” But now that some time has passed perhaps some of the passion has subsided, it’s time to look at the move from a more even headed perspective. (And if your anger hasn’t subsided, then here’s a great way to let everyone know how you feel.)

Naturally people are resistant to change, and LeBron’s choice shocked the public. At the surface was his egocentric media circus. There’s no doubt that James turned some people off based on how he handled this decision. Stringing along a few million fans, having a prime time show in his honor, hand picking the host, then proclaiming “South Beach” in front of children from the North East showed a disconnect from the common person. Had he made his decision humbly, profusely thanked the people of Ohio, and didn’t celebrate with a Heat jersey in July like he won an NBA championship then LeBron’s image might have survived the move largely in tact.

“The Decision” seemed unfathomable; it was a radical departure from history. Last year, the New York Times’ Howard Beck wrote:

[A team signing a free agent superstar] is probably doomed to fail because of one immutable, rarely acknowledged truth: superstar free agency barely exists in the N.B.A.

It has been almost 13 years since Shaquille O’Neal jilted the Orlando Magic and altered the N.B.A. landscape by signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. It was a modern anomaly, not a precedent. Few superstars have made free-agent moves since then.

It is not an accident.

“It’s built right into the system,” said Lon Babby, an agent whose client list includes Tim Duncan, Grant Hill and Ray Allen. “They don’t want guys to leave.”

By “they,” Babby means N.B.A. officials, whose quest for parity and cost control has created a market that rewards superstars for staying put and punishes them for leaving.

Combine financial self-interest with the N.B.A.’s complex salary-cap rules, and a result is a market in which superstars have little incentive to move.

“This succession of agreements has resulted in a hard salary cap,” said Arn Tellem, one of the N.B.A.’s most influential agents, “and has really, I think, eliminated for the most part free agency for the high-end players.”

The most critical element at work is the cap on individual salaries. Those limits did not exist in 1996, when the Lakers outbid the Magic and signed O’Neal to a $121 million contract.

Today, no team can be outbid for its own free agent unless it wants to be.

The best example is Nash, who in 2004 left Dallas to sign a five-year, $60 million deal with Phoenix. The Mavericks could have matched or exceeded the offer, but they were worried about Nash’s age (he was 30), health and breakneck style.

If the system is a burden to elite players, it is a boon for the league, which prizes franchise stability, and for fans, who almost never have to say goodbye to their heroes.

The choice of James has taken common wisdom and stood it on its ear. It was such a departure from the established definition of “a great player” that even former NBA stars came out against LeBron. Michael Jordan said he would never have called up Bird and Magic in a quest to win a championship. Charles Barkley noted that James tarnished his legacy by going to “Wade’s team.” While Knick great Walt Frazier succinctly stated that LeBron “took the easy way out.”

James’ choice was an affront to the sense of competitive balance. The average fan saw the trio of James, Wade, and Bosh as the playground equivalent of putting the three biggest kids on the same team so they can run the court all day long. For children, there’s no fun in stacking the odds to beat up on the weak. But playground ethics goes against the professional athletes’ rule of winning at all costs. Players are lauded for whatever will bring their team victory, including bending the rules. Fans often enjoy the hometown player who gets away with a fistful of jersey. Players are valued for wins the team earns and on a more granular level the number of rings they own. Jordan validated this theory when he pronounced Kobe to be superior to James, even though Bryant’s only real edge is better teammates.

The problem is that championships are a function of team, but they are often applied as measuring sticks for an individual. In some ways the public has themselves to blame for irrationally setting such odd standards. Jordan didn’t win a championship until he was teamed with Pippen (and Phil Jackson). Frazier played alongside a gaggle of Hall of Famers en route to his two championships (Reed, DeBusschere, Bradley, Monroe, and Lucas). Barkley chased a championship in Phoenix, and later as a third fiddle in Houston. The rules are clear: players are expected to do everything they can to win, and championships define players. Since good teammates win championships, then the most logical conclusion for an athlete is to find the best teammates possible in order to maintain their individual legacy. LeBron’s choice is simply the next logical step based on the criteria by which he will be judged.

But can the hatred last? True Hoop’s Henry Abbott likens LeBron’s case to Kevin Garnett who languished in Minnesota before teaming up in Boston with Allen and Pierce.

Sometimes you have to ask yourself what your end goal is: To win the individual sport of being the man, or the team sport of basketball? They usually go together. There’s a reason Bryant and Jordan have all those championship rings.

But sometimes the best thing for basketball is to not put everything on your shoulders, and instead get some help.

Think about Kevin Garnett. There are several different really smart analyses to show that when he was in Minnesota losing all those games he was literally the best player in the NBA (the same analysis, over the last two years, would say James is that player now). If you use some kind of smart objective metrics, Garnett’s is the name that comes up most from those years. But Garnett had no help! After he grew distraught with the team’s endless rebuilding, the Timberwolves found him a home in Boston with some serious help in the form of Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Even though Garnett did not play his best basketball in Boston, he did his best winning there, and the result has been a profound transformation of both how the world sees Garnett and how the city of Boston feels about basketball in the 2000s. It’s a model anyone would want to copy — a new home with talented teammates became a story of pure, unrestrained basketball joy for all involved who aren’t Timberwolves fans.

Although at the time, much of the vitriol was aimed above Garnett’s at Minnesota GM and former Celtic player Kevin McHale for handing his former team another trophy. Nevertheless today the Boston trio is no more or less hated than expected. In fact as Henry asserts, Garnett is viewed more positively for his role on a championship team.

Baseball’s Curt Flood, a pioneer of free agency for athletes, was vilified by his actions not just by the public, but with fellow players as well. Flood once returned to his locker to find a funeral wreath on it. In fact there are parallels between Flood and James. Both players simply sought the ability to go where they wished, and the public recoiled because they felt that decision would ruin the game. And although there will be many people who resent LeBron no matter what he does (mostly in Cleveland, New York, Chicago, and whatever cities he defeats on the way to a championship), there will be others who after he wins a title will view him in a positive light. Because as the old saying goes, everybody loves a winner.

More important than how this decision affects LeBron, is how it affects the choices athletes will make. Free agency in a capped league, like the amateur draft, is meant to help the weaker teams become more competitive. Teams with superstars should already be near the cap, and those without should be far enough below to sign them. However reality paints a different picture. Star players bypass the cities they wish to avoid and instead force their way onto a preferred franchise. Kareem did it to the Bucks in the 70s, Shaq did it twice, and Kobe did it before he was even drafted. As a result, the rest of the league usually ends up overpaying for the non-super stars.

Already with the ability to chose their destination (within reason) players have an upper hand in a game considered to be run by front offices. It would be like Karpov and Kasparov sitting down to play, but Karpov’s queen decides it would be easier to win if she decided to play alongside Kasparov’s queen. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh’s choice could start a trend in the league. The Heat were in no shortage of finding talented players with which to surround Miami Thrice. Other superstars like Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony have been rumored to wish to team up in order to create their own super team. In a few years, building teams with multiple superstars could be the norm around the NBA. In other terms what is going to stop Karpov’s rooks, knights, and bishops from all seeing better odds by going elsewhere, leaving a bunch of pawns and a defenseless king?

Perhaps I’m being overly pessimistic on the course laid out in the future. Change usually brings the negative out in people, and I’m sure there were fans that thought the worst of every change, whether it be racial integration, the three point line, or instant replay. The end of the reserve clause in baseball was supposed to be the death of sports, but just about every league has survived post free agency.

Maybe the NBA can thrive under these new conditions. It didn’t seem that the league was hurt by the dynasties of the Celtics, Lakers, or Bulls in the 80s & 90s. Nor did the rivalry between the Spurs, Lakers, Mavs, and Suns bore fans in the 00s. Perhaps franchises will aim for loads of cap space instead of overpaying for marginal talent. A handful of super teams would make the latter rounds of the playoffs much more interesting. Furthermore any Cinderella team, one without a group of superstars, would instantly become a sweetheart to all cities without playoff representation.

By creating a super team, LeBron has changed the rules of the game. Potentially he ushered a new era in sports where the best athletes choose their team and teammates. Although by doing so, LeBron has unintentionally recast himself as the league’s villain. However if this trend of creating teams of multiple All Stars pioneered by James becomes established as the norm, then history might view him in a more kind light.

Why Knicks Fans Should Be Glad Chris Paul Will Likely Remain a Hornet in 2010

When reports first started surfacing that Chris Paul had ranked the Knicks as his number one trade destination, I was ecstatic. Immediately, I had visions of a counter-dynasty to the Miami Heat. Dreams of Carmelo Anthony signing the next summer creating our own Big 3. So I thought the Knicks should trade whomever we need to get Paul, for no matter how much I love Gallo’s intensity and the potential of the recently-acquired Anthony Randolph, you absolutely cannot pass on obtaining perhaps the best point guard in the game. Especially when that point guard comes with the likelihood of Anthony, the smoothest scorer outside of Oklahoma City.

Unfortunately the news of a positive sit down between Paul and the Hornets, would seem to have thrown a wrench in my dreams of a New York Big 3. However, the truth is Knicks fans should be glad that the Hornets’ brass appear likely to persuade Paul to stick it out another year in New Orleans. And here’s why.

Chris Paul will not be traded for pennies on the dollar, and any deal would likely include Gallinari among a few other of the New York youngsters. We love Gallo for his shooting, his height, his overwhelming potential, but most of all we love him for his attitude. He has long been described as simply “tougher” than other European players, with a cocksure demeanor on the court that New Yorkers can easily identify with and appreciate. His duel against Carmelo this spring and his desire to defend the other team’s best player, night in and night out, only further endeared him to us. We want to watch him develop, we want him to succeed, and we want him on our team.

As great a sacrifice as it would be to Knicks fans to trade Gallinari (and Randolph, Douglas, and whatever other young prospects the Hornets required to make a deal), the truth is that, at this point in time, we would never have to make that sacrifice, because the Knick’s trade package is widely regarded among national media as perhaps the weakest available to the Hornets of the four teams on Paul’s wish list. (With the Magic, Trailblazers, and Mavericks rounding out the list.) Bill Simmons and John Hollinger both supported the idea of a trade which would send All-Star Brandon Roy to NO, and multiple writers argued that the Magic, with the ability to send Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, and other supporting players, provide the best option for the Hornets. I believe we can disregard the Blazers’ deal for two reasons. First, Paul’s desire appears to be to play with other stars, and trading away your best player doesn’t satisfy that request. And second, I don’t think Blazers’ management would give up Roy anyway.

However, the Orlando deal should be of very real concern. A day after his original report stating that the Knicks were number one on Paul’s wish list, Chris Broussard reported that the Magic had taken the top spot, because Paul believed they could present a deal more likely to persuade Hornets management. Besides the possibility that the Hornets play well next year (encouraging Paul to stick with the only team he’s ever played for) a trade with Orlando is the greatest threat to the Knicks landing CP3.

Analysis of potential trades in this scenario is difficult because, when comparing trades, the determining factor in whether a deal is plausible is what management/ownership are trying to receive in return, and in the case of the Hornets this isn’t very clear. They’ve stated repeatedly that their preference is to keep Paul, and appear encouraged by this latest meeting. However, it is believed that if they were forced to trade him at this point, it would be largely for financial reasons. The prolonged sale of the team from majority owner Gary Shinn to minority owner Gary Chouest has some believing that Shinn, amidst fears that the sale could collapse, and unable to continue suffering the massive losses the Hornets have been posting, might eventually OK the trade of Paul as a way to cut salary and rid himself of Emeka Okafor’s ($53 million- 4 years) and James Posey’s ($13 million- 2 years) weighty contracts. The Hornets must also be concerned with the impact on attendance if Paul were to ask for a trade; for as Marc Stein wrote:

A case can be made that keeping Paul in hopes of eventually regaining the confidence of the face of the franchise — or merely holding off until the Hornets decide that they’re ready to trade him — might not be as beneficial for the long-term health of the franchise as proactively trying to move Paul and ultimately spare themselves from the daily distraction and potential negative impact at the gate that comes with employing a disgruntled superstar.

It is then easy to understand that, if one of the Hornets’ main concerns is increasing attendance (a statistic in which the Hornets ranked 23rd out of 30 last year, albeit with Paul out most of the season), a trade featuring marquee names such as Vince Carter would be likely to trump a Knicks’ package featuring unproven prospects. This is true even if from a long term basketball perspective Randolph and Gallinari are more attractive than Nelson and Carter.

The one thing the Knicks have going for them is that they could swap the trade chip that is Eddy Curry’s expiring contract for Okafor’s equally ridiculous and longer contract. This is a thought that should seriously worry Knicks fans, for while a team with Chris Paul and Amar’e Stoudemire is almost immediately a very good team, if we have to lose our most exciting young players in the process, we have no possibility of being a championship team. Okafor’s contract makes it next to impossible that the Knicks could obtain that third star which would make them competitive with the elite of the East.

So what does this all mean? While I love the idea of getting Paul, if we have to sacrifice everything to get him, including our young prospects and the ability to acquire Carmelo, I just don’t think it is worth it. The most successful franchises in the leagues don’t make that deal, because they understand that erasing your ability to win a title in the process of becoming very good just isn’t worth it. Furthermore, even if the Hornets did decide to make a deal before the end of next season, the chances are slim to none that the Knicks would be the beneficiaries.

However, if the Knicks, Paul, and the Hornets can all make it through this season, each biding their time until the opportune moment, the dynasty of the New York 3 can still happen. In one year’s time, Gallinari, Randolph, Azubuike, and Douglas should all be worth more than they are now. Darren Collison will begin to outgrow his role as Paul’s backup. And the Hornets will be closer to having their superstar leave without any compensation. In this scenario, Chris Paul to New York will make much more sense. It would be cheaper for the Knicks since they would have more assets, and the Hornets would be getting a bona fide star instead of an aging one (Vince Carter) or a young question mark (Randolph or Gallo this year). Without mortgaging both talent and cap space now, the team could have one or both of those in the future. Which would mean that there would still be the possibility of obtaining the third superstar after Paul. And my notion of the NY3 propelling the Knicks to instant contention would still be alive.

If I Were The Knicks GM, I’d…

With one day of the NBA’s 2010 free agency in the books, some developments have occured that might alter New York’s plans. What would I do with how the chips current lie?

Plan A – This is still LeBron James. A lot of speculation was that New York needed to sign James along with a second superstar to make a championship caliber team. Of course signing another top tier free agent would be ideal, it’s not necessary. First, New York has Eddy Curry’s contract that they can use in a sign and trade anywhere between now & the trading deadline. At worst they can let it expire & use that money to sign another player.

Second, I’d say that James, along with re-signing David Lee would make New York one of the best teams in the league next year. Why? New York theoretically could surround James (60.4% TS%) and Lee (58.4%) with Gallinari (57.5%), Walker (65.1%), and Toney Douglas (57.1%). That would be an incredibly efficient lineup. Although they might be lacking on the interior especially with rebounding at the 4, that would be one heck of a difficult team to shut down defensively. They could easily lead the league in offense with enough room to cover an average defense, much like D’Antoni’s 60 win Phoenix teams. Additionally Lee would give them some extra cap room to sign a few players for depth.

Plan B – See above, but substitute Dwayne Wade for LeBron James.

Plan C – Here’s where things from day 1 make it interesting. In the likely event that James and Wade go elsewhere, supposedly the Knicks were high on pairing Joe Johnson with another big man (Bosh? Amare?). But it appears that Atlanta has put the kibosh on that plan by throwing a max-ish offer at Johnson. (At this time the rumor is unclear if the offer is for the full 6 years, or just 5). New York’s backup option was likely Rudy Gay, but that option has been taken off the table by Memphis’ deal worth $86M over 5 years.

So let’s assume that LeBron, Wade, Johnson, and Gay are all off the table. What are the Knicks to do? The obvious option would be to bring back David Lee along with one of the top big men Amare Stoudemire or Chris Bosh. Bringing Lee back would be key, considering that he would likely cost less than Bosh or Amare, giving the Knicks the ability to sign another mid-tier free agent. Perhaps a player like Mike Miller or Josh Childress would come to New York for a discount. If not they should be able to land someone decent, if not one or more of the bargain bin players that Ted Nelson brought up earlier in the week.

A lineup of Stoudemire/Bosh, Lee, Gallinari, Miller/Childress, and Douglas with the bench of Chandler, Walker, Fields, Rautins, and James should easily make the playoffs. Depth would be a concern (especially at center & point guard), but the team would still have Curry’s contract to use for an upgrade at those spots.

Plan D – If Bosh and Stoudemire go elsewhere, the Knicks aren’t likely to have a good 2010. Their best option would be to make a trade for a superstar. Of course this is where Walsh’s mid-season trades hurt them, because they lost some assets they could have used in a deal. Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony could be possibilities, but the team inevitably would have to send their prized youngster (Gallo) along with a few other players. Depending on how this plays out, they could still have Lee (or not) and cap space (or not). The idea would be to grab a superstar now and hope to eventually surround him with talent. Paul or Anthony surrounded by marginal talent would be an upgrade for New York, but depending on the cast might struggle to win half their games.

Plan E – Hope New Jersey gets some free agents and wait for them to move to Brooklyn. Sell all my Knicks related stuff on eBay.

OK so it’s probably an overstatement, as the team would be best served by going lean for another year & hold onto their cap space. The worst part about this scenario is that Walsh’s past year would have been one big mistake. Not resigning Lee to a moderate contract, and trading some future draft picks (plus Hill) to get rid of Jeffries’ contract will have hurt the team tremendously. For another year they would be a losing team without the benefit of having their own first round draft pick. On the other hand, the team wouldn’t be hamstrung by a handful of overpaid players for the first time in what seems like a generation.

Denver Win, The Good Side of Rebuilding

Tuesday’s victory over Denver was one the bright moments for Knick fans this year. Against one of the league’s best teams, New York kept it close for most of the game. They broke open a third quarter lead only to relinquish it in the fourth. But down the final stretch the Knicks held on to the lead for the victory. They even had a few calls go their way, including a David Lee charge that would have been his sixth foul, but was surprisingly reversed. And their most promising young player, Danilo Gallinari, held his own against one of the league’s premiere forwards. Gallo scored 28 points on 19 shots, and was eager to defend against Carmelo Anthony.

But what made this win even more enjoyable was that it was done on the backs of the Knicks fledglings. In the Denver game, more than half of the total minutes (129 of 240) went to players under the age of 25. The cliche is that fans don’t want to see their team rebuild, or even more strongly that you can’t rebuild in New York. However if rebuilding is what we’ve seen over the last few games, then what’s not to like?

Over the last 9 games, the Knick youngsters of Toney Douglas, Danilo Gallinari, Bill Walker, and J.R. Giddens has been given more playing time by D’Antoni. Douglas has hit 22 minutes in all those games, and started in the last 6. Gallo’s role has expanded and he’s played in 40+ minutes in 5 of those 9 games. Walker started in 4 games, while his ex-Boston teammate J.R. Giddens has played in all 4 games since coming back from injury. Three big questions from the preseason was: A. Could Gallo survive playing a big dosage of minutes? B. Could Toney Douglas become an NBA caliber rotation player? C. Could the Knicks find inexpensive talent for next year? From the results of the last 3 weeks, the answer seems to be yes on all accounts.

The Knicks have been winning during this rebuilding phase, as New York in 5-4 in this stretch. Having their young and inexperienced players do well with extended playing time gives Knick fans hope that these guys can form a solid supporting cast around whoever the team grabs in free agency this year. Winning is just the icing on the cake.