T-Mac Trades That Could Help New York

With trade rumors circulating, I decided to look at some of the possibilities of a three way T-Mac deal. From the Knicks perspective, it’s obvious that they want to shed either Jeffries or Curry, and rumors are that they covet McGrady. It’s unlikely that the Knicks are going to make the playoffs, but the Rockets are on the cusp, and they’re interested in getting something tangible for their oft-injured former All Star. Meanwhile the Wizards are looking to salvage something from their disasterous season, most likely in the form of cap relief and young talent.

With that in mind there are a few possibilities. The simplest one is this:

New York gets:
McGrady GF

Washington gets:
Harrington PF
Mobley SF
HOU 1st round pick (protected)

Houston Gets:
Butler SG
Haywood C
Jeffries F

Basically the Knicks unload Jeffries and get McGrady as a last ditch effort to make the postseason. Meanwhile the Wizards clear Butler’s salary off their cap and get a draft pick in return. The Rockets eat some salary, but get three players that will aid them reach the postseason. Houston can protect that draft pick in case they slip in the standing.

There are a few ways to work this deal if parties aren’t interested in certain aspects of it. For instance New York has reiterated that they would not trade Cuttino Mobley, so they can do the deal with Darko Milicic instead. Additionally the Knicks can ask for seldom used PG Mike James as well. What if the Rockets don’t want Jared Jeffries, but the Knicks are still enamored with T-Mac? They could send Nate Robinson to Houston, but not Washington

Of course just because this was reported in the news doesn’t mean that these teams are even discussing such a swap. But if the teams are interested in such a deal, it shouldn’t be too complicated for them to work something out. Personally I’m not thrilled with acquiring McGrady, since I don’t see him helping the team much unless if his arrival pushes Chris Duhon to the bench. However if the Knicks are able to unload Jeffries in a package, then it’s a no brainer as long as New York doesn’t give up any youngsters or draft picks. If either team requires any of Chandler, Gallinari, Hill, Douglas, or a draft pick to make it work, then New York should walk away from the table.

The D’Antoni Rules

The rotation is short.

This is a well known characteristic of D’Antoni. The Knicks employed 11 players in the blowout win against Indiana, which is rare for him. The last time D’Antoni went into double digits was December 2nd against Orlando. In between those two games D’Antoni used 8 players every game (including 11 straight) except for two contests where 9 players saw the floor. Factor in that the 8th guy usually doesn’t see a lot of minutes, and it’s essentially a 7 man rotation. For instance Eddy Curry saw “action” in 3 of those games, but he didn’t play more than 7 minutes in any of those games. D’Antoni’s rotation is much like you’d expect from a playoff team. The best guys (according to him) get the lions share of the minutes, a few other guys come in for breathers, and everyone else has front row seats to an NBA game.

You’re either in or your out.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground with D’Antoni. The Knicks coach has stated that he doesn’t like to put veterans in for spot minutes, prefering to keep them on the bench instead of bringing them in cold. He has repeated this frequently, especially when asked about bringing in a non-rotation player for offensive or defensive purposes in a single critical possession (Darko Milicic, Jerome James, etc.). Chances are if a player is seeing minutes, they’ll continue to get court time. And the converse is true as well.

Injuries doesn’t constitute succession

This was apparent last year when the Knicks were short on guards due to the Crawford trade, Mobley injury, and Marbury refusal. Instead of going to the next guy on the bench like most coaches would, D’Antoni ignored Roberson. New York rode Duhon into the hardwood and even went guardless at times, rather than turn to someone on the end of the pine. So if a player thinks that an injury means that coach D will be forced to insert them into the game, then they’re misguided.

If you’re suddenly out of the rotation, don’t expect a greeting card to make you aware of the fact.

Granted this is a leap for yours truly to state, because I’m not omni-present in the team lockerroom. However Larry Hughes was quoted as saying:

“It’s easy to communicate with a grown man,” Hughes said. “It’s a long season and you always want to have dialog and talk things out. I definitely want the dialog. Let guys know where they stand and you can voice opinions on both sides.

“There’s nothing wrong with voicing an opinion because they’re not facts. It’s what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling. Just to have communication, I think, goes a long way in this league.”

This isn’t the first time a player (or Hughes for that matter) has been unhappy with a lack of playing time and went public about it. However in this case it seems that Hughes isn’t just lashing out from spite. Compare this to Darko’s rant on NBA coaches, and Hughes’ request seems downright reasonable. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that D’Antoni communicates his lineup changes to his players.

From these rules it’s easier to understand D’Antoni’s priorities. He seems to favor continuity & familiarity over strategic match ups. Granted there are deficiencies to D’Antoni’s system, most notably the lack of time for players outside of the rotation. But even this has its benefits as a young player could crack the starting lineup and see lots of playing time (see Wilson Chandler, 2009). Of course the lack of communication is a serious issue as well. However this system has its fair share of positives. Over the life of KnickerBlogger, I’ve criticized Knick coaches for not putting out a lineup that forced the opposition to adjust to New York’s strengths. And this is exactly what D’Antoni does. If you watched the Indiana game, Hibbert looked like a slow plodding dinosaur against the more agile Knicks.

Fortunately for D’Antoni, New York’s roster is conducive to such a set of rules. The Knicks can play the 6-11 Jared Jeffries at any spot, and D’Antoni has put him on both centers and point guards. Chris Duhon and David Lee can always shift over one spot, and the rest of the rotation is filled with forwards that can handle multiple positions like Wilson Chandler (6-8), Danilo Gallinari (6-10), Al Harrington (6-9), and Jonathan Bender (7-0). This roster construction allows D’Antoni to keep the rotation short, and not force him to play someone outside of his comfort zone.

Amid Noise, A Rooster Crows

There’s a lot to talk about with the Knicks these days. The Nate Robinson saga is in full swing, with the latest volley being the diminutive guard having his agent lobby for a trade. Of course this goes hand in hand with the Knicks current win streak, as lots of people will point out the team has gone 6-3 since D’Antoni exiled Nate to the canine abode. And if Nate is asking for a trade that means the number of rumors involving Tracy McGrady, Tyrus Thomas, and Anthony Randolph will also increase. You could add into this drama Eddy Curry’s status, as the former franchise savior sits behind Darko Milicic in terms of minutes played on the season (Curry 62, Darko 71). There are grumblings that Curry is unhappy with his lack of court time as well. Finally is the newly acquired Jonathan Bender, who is having a Rip Van Winkle style awakening.

But perhaps lost in all this is the improved play of Danilo Gallinari. The team grabbed Gallo with the 6th pick last year, and a back injury derailed his initial campaign. The Rooster was a one trick pony, hitting threes at an unbelievable rate. This season, Gallo seems to be taking the critical next step forward in his development.

2009 28 412 10.9 .448 6.3 .444 2.4 .963 1.1 3.7 4.8
2010 26 771 13.0 .432 8.2 .423 3.0 .785 0.9 4.8 5.7

2009 1.3 1.2 0.3 1.3 4.2 14.9 .621 13.4
2010 1.7 1.2 1.0 1.6 2.5 17.0 .595 16.5

Although his primary asset is still the long ball (61% of all his points come from behind the arc), Gallo is showing a more well rounded game. He has improved his passing, scoring volume, free throw attempts, rebounding, fouls, and blocked shots. The latter stats are vital to Danilo’s growth. There was never any doubt that Gallinari could shot, but rather it was his athleticism that was under question. So to see Gallo contribute in these areas is a good sign. Some stats are more linked to physical ability, and it’s good to compare Gallinari’s to another young Knick known for his “explosiveness”.

   Player Year Age  G FTA ORB DRB TRB STL BLK  PF
 Chandler 2010  22 27 2.2 1.8 3.7 5.6 0.5 0.9 3.8
Gallinari 2010  21 26 3.0 0.9 4.8 5.7 1.2 1.0 2.5

Gallo has clear advantages in free throws attempted, steals, and fouls per minute. The first is a bit surprising considering how often Gallinari is camped behind the three point line. However he has shown the ability to get inside and either finish or draw contact. Gallo’s success could be the result of having a few different moves, as witnessed by his pump & scoop shot against the Bobcats on Sunday. The steals seem to be more the result of quick hands than playing the passing lanes. And Gallo’s height advantage allows him to commit less fouls. The interesting aspect of comparing Gallinari to Wilson Chandler is that the latter is thought of being a player that relies on his physical ability. But it’s clear that Gallo is more athletic than previously thought and/or Chandler isn’t producing has you’d expect from someone with his physique.

Looking back at the Knicks recent win streak, there’s been a lot of conjecture on if this was the result of Robinson’s banishment or Jeffries role as a defensive force. But perhaps it’s Gallinari’s emergence that has helped to put New York over the top. In the Knicks last 9 games, the Rooster has give New York 13 blocks and 13 steals, in addition to 2 double digit rebound games and 8 double digit scoring outputs. There’s an old basketball axiom that says your shot may not be there some games, but you can bring intensity on the defensive end every night. Perhaps a microcosm of Gallinari’s game could be seen in the final moments of the Bobcats game. Gallo was unable to hit free throws to ice the game, but he blocked a shot in the final second to preserve the victory.

Trading Nate, The Logistics

With Nate Robinson in D’Antoni’s doghouse it’s only natural for Knick fans to expect the diminutive guard to be traded. Nate is in the last year of his deal, and if he isn’t getting playing time now, then it seems unlikely that New York is going to tender him a long term deal. Additionally considering Nate’s instant offense and other tangibles, he’ll likely be courted by a few different teams. Hence it makes the most sense for the Knicks to move him this year, before they get nothing in return for their investment.

Unfortunately trades in the NBA are rarely as easy as finding a match in talent. You also have to be mindful of the salary cap & the rules that accompany it. For instance there have been rumors of the Knicks interested in Tyrus Thomas, but the teams couldn’t swap the two straight up due to the cap rules. And this is where things get interesting.

In the NBA any trade involving teams over the salary cap has to be within of 125% plus $0.1M of the contracts given up. This means if the Knicks traded someone that was making $4M, the most they could get back in contacts is $5.1M ($4M * 1.25 + $0.1M). However there is a rule in place for Base Year Compensation players (BYC) which is meant to prevent teams from signing players solely to match contracts in order to make trades. This was put in place to prevent teams from let’s say giving Morris Almond $10M to trade him with a future first for Luol Deng.

New York signed Robinson for $4M this year, but according to ESPN his BYC amount is $2.02M. This means that when calculating how much the Knicks can receive, we use $2.02M, and when calculating how much the other team can receive it uses $4M. Under the salary cap rules, a team that sends out $2.02M can only receive $2.54M in salaries, hence this makes it impossible to do a 1 for 1 BYC deal with a team over the cap.

Since the calculation is based on a percentage, the only way for a team to trade a BYC player is to include enough salaries so that the team is within the allowed threshold. Figuring out this how much requires a little bit of arithmetic. Solve for x where: $4M + X – (1.25*($2.02M+X)) = $0.1M, and X = $5.5M. So in order to trade Nate Robinson the Knicks would have to include at least $5.5M in salaries.

Knowing this makes for some interesting trade possibilities. One way to work a Nate Robinson for Tyrus Thomas trade would be to add shot-blocking bench-warming centers Darko Milicic ($7.54M) and Jerome James ($6.6M). If the Knicks wanted to shed some salary for the summer, they could include Jared Jeffries ($6.47M) and the Malik Rose trade exception ($0.9M) instead of Darko.

What if, as rumored, the Bulls want Al Harrington? Then the two could do Nate, Harrington and the Quentin Richardson exception for Thomas & Brad Miller. Too one sided for Chicago? Then perhaps the deal could be expanded to something like Thomas, Noah and Miller, for Nate, Harrington, Darko, and Jordan Hill. Although I don’t expect the Bulls to trade Noah so easily, it’s not a ridiculous deal. The Bulls plan on replacing Thomas with Taj Gibson anyway, and Al Harrington would probably eat up some of those minute and more. Between Harrington and Nate, the Bulls wouldn’t lack for scoring. They would be losing a bit at center, but Jordan Hill would give them a young option there.

In any case the Knicks and Bulls do have some options and flexibility in generating a trade. Moving Robinson is easier than moving David Lee because of the smaller salary. To trade Lee, the Knicks would have to pile on $10.1M in salary. Although you have to consider that New York isn’t likely to move Lee, given that he’s the team’s best player and leads them in minutes.

Three Days of Practice

True leaders gone,
Of land and people.
We choose no kin but adopted strangers.
The family weakens by the length we travel…

— “Three Days” by Jane’s Addiction

Yesterday after last night’s post game interview, Mike D’Antoni said the team had three days of practices to figure out what’s wrong before the next game against Indiana. Clearly at 1-9 the team needs a shakeup, so I thought as Knick fans we could discuss what changes you’d like to see come Wednesday.

The 2009 Knicks gave up 110.8 points per 100 possessions and were ranked 23rd. This year they are allowing 109.4, which is ranked 21st. So the defense is about the same as last year, which is what everyone expected. Doing the same comparison on offense shows a serious decline from 108.1 (17th) to 100.2 (25th). Scrutinizing the offensive 4 factors reveals the team’s main weakness. Their eFG has dropped from 50.3% to 47.7%. Other than that, the team has done slightly better with regards to turnovers, and slightly worse at rebounding.

So with those statistics in mind, I think it’s clear who needs to sit. Chris Duhon (29.2% eFG, 36.7% TS) should be at the top of the list, and in fact I’d lobby for him to receive his first DNP on Wednesday. In D’Antoni’s offense, the point guard is critical to the team’s success, and Duhon is the main culprit to their scoring woes. Duhon’s decline is baffling, because players don’t normally decline without reason. Perhaps there’s either a lingering injury or some off-court matter that is causing his putrid performance.

In his place I would play the rookie Toney Douglas. For all the talk of the Knicks passing on drafting Jennings, Lawson, and Blair, Douglas is quietly having a good November (21.1 pts/36, 59.8% eFG, 60.7% eFG). His assists are low, but perhaps that’s because he’s been more of a shooting guard in the offense (2.1 to/36, 1.5 ast/36). Handing the offensive reigns over to him, even if Douglas looks to score first, couldn’t be any worse than what Duhon is doing.

Next to Douglas would be Danilo Gallinari (58.4% eFG, 62.3% TS), David Lee (54.8%, 57.0%), and Larry Hughes (53.3%, 58.6%). Which leaves one spot open. Currently Wilson Chandler has been filling that role, but his shooting has been really bad as well (42.0%, 44.8%). In fact his three point percentage is at a point that he should just really stop taking them (21.9%). Unfortunately there isn’t another Knick who is shooting well enough to be a clear candidate to take his place. So my choice would be Darko Milicic. While Darko isn’t going to help the offense, he doesn’t take a lot of shots and he’ll theoretically help the team defensively.

A lineup of Douglas, Hughes, Gallo, Lee, and Darko should be decent enough defensively without sacrificing too much offense (unlike if they played Chandler and Jeffries). It would end the small ball lineup D’Antoni craves, and give the Knicks a little more size. Shifting Lee to PF would benefit him defensively, Douglas and Hughes would make a strong back court, and Darko could help with penetrators in the paint.

Nate Robinson would be the 6th man to provide scoring off the bench. If Curry were ready, I would use him in a center platoon with Darko, perhaps giving Jordan Hill some minutes there too. This would keep New York in a more traditional alignment for most of the game. And the rest of the minutes can be split between Chandler and Harrington. Actually the latter could earn a DNP in my book, if the Knicks can replace Lee in another way. All Harrington contributes is scoring, and this year his shooting has been substandard (44.2% eFG, 51.3% TS). Which means Harrington isn’t giving the team anything. Visually he’s been unbelievably selfish on the court taking just about every possession he can get his hands on.

Well that’s my take on the Knicks rotation. What’s yours?

What’s Wrong With the Knicks?

The New York Knicks have limped out to a 1-6 start, their worst since 2003 when they began the year 1-8. That season, they eventually finished 37-45, which would actually be an improvement for this team. So although history shows us that all is not lost, there are some issues the team must overcome to get back on track.

Not to Three?
The team’s three point percentage of 30.3% is 57 points lower than last year’s average, but that number isn’t indicative of how bad New York’s shooting has been. That percentage is inflated by Danilo Gallinari’s sizzling 46.6%. The non-Gallo Knicks are shooting an appallingly bad 22.5%. And while the knee-jerk reaction is to blame non-shooter Jared Jeffries and rookie Toney Douglas, the pair are actually 2nd and 3rd on the team respectively in three point percentage. It’s the regulars of Hughes, Harrington, Duhon, Chandler, and Robinson that are sinking the team.

For some teams, going through a cold spell from behind the arc might be a nuisance, but D’Antoni’s offense requires the team to make their treys to open up the inside. I documented this here, showing how other teams are clogging the middle and daring the team to beat them from the outside. That said this is probably an early season funk, and more likely than not New York will end up in the middle of the pack with regards to three point shooting. Hopefully the drought will end sooner than later.

Ill Ill Will?
It seems that Knick fans are split on their opinion of Wilson Chandler. Some see a youngster with a lot of upside, while others see caution flags from his advanced stats. But neither side envisioned him playing this poorly. Chandler has been dreadful in 2010, starting off the year with a PER of 7.7, nearly half of his 2009 rate of 12.9. The decline is entirely due to his anemic shooting: 39.9% TS% and 20.0% 3P%.

Chandler did have surgery in the offseason, which prevented him from working on his game during the summer. The good news is that his non-shooting stats have been identical to last year, which means that there isn’t a lingering physical issue that is causing his decline. The bad news is Chandler was never a good shooter to begin with, and that he needed the extra time to work on his jumper. The best the team can hope for is to send Chandler slashing to the hoop more often, which is usually a good prescription for any athletic player struggling to find their range.

There’s No Movement, No Movement, No Movement…
What happened to the movement on offense? The hallmark of D’Antoni’s offense is having some kind of constant motion, either via ball or players. But this year, it seems that the half court offense has become stagnant. And of course there’s the limitation of the roster. Chris Duhon is still passing up easy buckets in the paint, Al Harrington is still refusing to pass the ball, and Jeffries is still getting court time. The one guy who has the multifaceted game to jumpstart the offense, Nate Robinson, is sidelined with an injury.

Again it seems the lack of an outside threat has hurt the team, but perhaps D’Antoni should be finding another way to generate points. Given his reputation as an offensive coach, he should be able to coax some more production out of this group.

Pennies On the Dollar (Or Thousands of Dollars on the Millions of Dollars)
While one could argue that their precious cap space and a lack of assets prevented them from making a major move, the truth is the team failed to improve at all. The team didn’t deviate from their 2009 roster much, adding only Darko Milicic, Jordan Hill, Toney Douglas, and Marcus Landry. None of these players are averaging 10 minutes per game.

The problem boils down to New York failing to find any low cost help. It’s easy to say the NBA is a superstar’s league, but the truth is that teams need to fill their entire roster. This means front offices need to not only be successful in acquiring superstars, but digging the bargain bin for productive players. The Celtics might not have won a a title without their big trio, but perhaps their troika of youngsters Rondo, Perkins, and Powe was equally important to that championship run. The same could be said for the Spurs for turning the undrafted 30 year old Bruce Bowen and 57th overall pick Manu Ginobili into a part of their core. And the Pistons would not have won their last championship without Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups – two players that were relative nobodies before their arrival in Detroit.

Every year there seems to be a few unheralded players who find success on the major league level, in addition to homeless veterans willing to play for a bargain. In the Donnie Walsh era, the Knicks have flirted with lots of inexpensive players like Von Wafer, Demetris Nichols, Anthony Roberson, Cheikh Samb, Mouhamed Sene, Courtney Simms, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Joe Crawford, Chris Hunter and Morris Almond but failed to unearth any rough gems.

For a team that relies on outside shooting so much (New York was 1st in three pointers attempted last year), the team has a glaring hole at shooting guard. The 2-guard position is filled by a small forward (Wilson Chandler), an undersized point guard (Nate Robinson) and an aging slasher with a questionable shot (Larry Hughes). To compound the situation the team does have a free roster spot and there are some options available (Almond, Crawford and Szczerbiak). It would cost the team a fraction of their total salary to acquire a shooter, but for some reason they’re content in staying pat. Having a three point specialist would probably be helpful a few nights over the course of the season. But developing one from the NBA scrap heap into the rotation would be the mark of a good front office.

Knicks 93 Heat 115

The Knicks lost the 2010 opener in Miami 93 to 115. New York tied the game at 46 on a Lee layup with 2:49 left in the 2nd quarter. But the game fell apart for them shortly after. Miami would score 10 consecutive points in the next 2:19 and then outscore the Knicks 34-15 in the third quarter.

Some notes on the game:

  • Jeffries took the opening tip, but that’s the closest he came to being a center. Immediately after the tip, and for most of the game, he defended the SF position.
  • Continuing from last year, the Knicks continued their strategy of switching on nearly every pick. There were a few communication issues in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, where Miami got players undefended in the paint.
  • One quirk Darko Milicic has is to tip defensive rebounds to his teammates, which might explain his low rebounding numbers. He took hook shots with both his left & right hand, sinking both. And his passing is certainly underrated (3 ast in 17 mins), especially in the half court set. He could have had at least 2 more assists, but Knick players were unable to convert close to the hoop.

    The defense looked good with him on the floor, and the Heat did their biggest damage (late 2nd, early 3rd) with him on the bench. He didn’t register a blocked shot, but a few times players were unable to get a shot off or make their shot in the paint due to his presence. Milicic hurt his knee in the second half, but did return to the bench.

  • The Knicks were ice cold from three point land in the first half. They hit only 4 of 19 (21%).
  • Wilson Chandler’s first three attempts were all of the 18-21 foot variety, he hit only one of them.
  • In his first NBA minute, Toney Douglas committed a foolish foul on Daequan Cook’s attempted three pointer, running into him after the shot.
  • Danilo Gallinari got hot in the second half, and finished with 7 three pointers on 13 attempts. Most of them were wide open, but he hit one at least 5 feet from behind the arc. However he didn’t do much else on offense, and only had a single shot from inside the arc. It was a drive off of a three point head fake, and was blocked by Joel Anthony.
  • David Lee started off the game well, with some baskets in the paint and he hit a jump shot. But he picked up 2 fouls early, and had to sit out most of the first half.
  • Al Harrington had a Crawford-esque line: 5-14, 0 reb, 0 ast, 2 to. At one point when the Heat were pulling away in the 3rd, his inbound pass got intercepted by Dwayne Wade for a spectacular layup.
  • Jared Jeffries had 2 points in 35 minutes. He helped in other areas, (5 reb, 4 ast, 2 blk, 1 stl), but he also had 3 turnovers. Two of them for inexplicably stepping out of bounds near the three point line.