The Worst Article Of 2010

In today’s news where ratings matter as much as content (and perhaps more), sensationalism in the press is expected. This has been especially true with regards to this year’s NBA free agent class, as some of the game’s biggest stars will reshape the league in an extraordinary fashion in the coming weeks. Given the players’ reluctance to name their potential suitors and the teams’ inability to talk about players signed to other teams news outlets have been left with little actual facts to report on.

Typically when the press is shut out to a story that the public wants to hear about, reporters will seek out “sources” (who frequently wish to remain anonymous) that may have inside knowledge. By getting an insight on the thoughts of the people involved, they can circumvent the cone of silence and provide information to the public. However one problem with this type of journalism is that their sources never have to deal with the consequences of their words. For instance an anonymous source may bend the truth (or invent it) in order to manipulate outside events. People or organizations may leak information (that may not be true) to a source knowing that they will hand it over to the media. Or worse, a reporter may invent an anonymous source to lend a piece some credibility.

Stories with anonymous sources are best taken with a grain of salt. Depending on the reader and the content, some people may swallow the article as truth more easily than others, especially if it fits with the reader’s view of the topic. So in some sense a part of the success of an article quoting an anonymous source is the believability of it.

So enter SNY.tv’s article titled “Source: Knicks eye Johnson, not James.”

The Knicks are targeting Joe Johnson as their No. 1 free agent choice and believe he’s a better fit for the team than LeBron James, according to an NBA source with knowledge of the team’s plans.

“Yes, we think he’s a better player,” the source said of Johnson. “He makes other people better. With LeBron’s people running the locker room that hurts the organization.”

he source also mentioned concerns about James’ entourage taking over the franchise.

“I don’t care what most people think,” the source said. “I’m not saying that LeBron is not a good player, but other stuff comes with it. LeBron’s friends want jobs. You’re gonna lose running your organization. As time goes on you got to hire this guy, you got to hire that guy.”

The source says the Knicks think Joe Johnson is a better player than LeBron James. It’s hard to believe that anyone would think that Johnson is a better player than James. If I had to pick a quick metric to show the disparity between the two I’d say that basketball-reference.com calculates James’ probability of making the Hall of Fame at 98%, and Johnson’s at 6%.

But just as interesting is the person who said that. The author Adam Zagoria, describes him as “an NBA source with knowledge of the team’s plans.” So the source sounds like someone who works closely with the NBA and has insider access to the Knicks, but doesn’t work for the team. But the quote uses the word “we” to describe the Knicks, which implies he’s part of the organization. For instance if the source was Donnie Walsh’s barber, he would have said “they think”, not “we think”. To use “we” implies the guy actually works for the team. So why wouldn’t Zagoria just describe him in a less wordy way as “a source who works for the Knicks?”

Those aren’t the only parts that don’t make sense. The source claims the Knicks are avoiding LeBron James because they’d have to hire some of his friends as well. Let’s just assume that I can’t possibly know if this is true (but a google search for “Cleveland Cavaliers hire LeBron’s friends” results in naught). Does anyone think that hiring 20 of LeBron’s friends at $50k a year mean anything to a team that has paid Eddy Curry $20M to play in 10 games over the last two seasons? Put it this way, if there was no salary cap, would there be any doubt that the Knicks bid would go well over the current maximum price for James? (At least enough to cover cushy jobs for his entourage.)

To summarize the article, the Knicks think Joe Johnson will lead to more wins, they don’t want LeBron James because his entourage will demand jobs in the organization, and the source of this information can’t make up his mind if he’s just knowledgeable about the team or actually works for them. Any one of these facts are difficult to believe, nevertheless all of them combined. Imagine if I wrote an article with quoting a source with knowledge of SNY.tv who said:

“Adam Zagoria just called up his friend who has a John Starks jersey and occasionally gets off his meds. Feeling self defensive about LeBron going to another team, the guy began to rant about how Joe Johnson was better anyway. Hoping to make a big name of himself with such a controversial headline, Zagoria decided to run with the story quoting his mentally unstable friend as an NBA source with knowledge of the team. (This wasn’t such a stretch, since his friend once saw Donnie Walsh exiting the Garden & yelled “Are you going to sign LeBron?” To which he swore that Walsh gave him a wink.). The editor at SNY.tv, too busy with his Hijack Armored Bank Truck in Mafia Wars and pushed the story through without really reading it.

Such an article would be laughed at because it’s so unlikely to be true. I think.

2010 Report Card: Tracy McGrady

When a change occurs it always takes the mainstream a bit of time to adjust to the new idea. I recall watching a Knick game near the end of the year with the announcers talking about whether or not McGrady would be coming back next year. One of them (not sure who it was) said that McGrady would have to accept being a second star on a team.

At this time, I’ll chose to reveal McGrady’s similarity scores before I continue.

Similarity Scores:

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS eFG PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Tracy McGrady 2010 TOT 12.2 46.6 42.1 13.1 1.2 5.0 5.3 0.8 0.7 2.4
.090 Travis Best 2003 MIA 11.2 47.3 42.7 12.0 0.5 2.9 5.1 0.9 0.1 2.1
.099 Henry Bibby 1980 PHI 11.1 49.1 41.0 13.1 1.1 3.7 5.4 1.1 0.1 2.6
.110 Troy Hudson 2007 MIN 10.8 48.3 45.1 13.1 0.5 3.1 4.7 0.9 0.1 2.6
.158 Bimbo Coles 1999 GSW 14.8 49.6 44.9 12.9 0.6 3.3 6.3 1.3 0.3 2.3
.162 Bob Sura 2004 TOT 16.2 51.0 43.8 12.9 2.2 7.1 5.0 1.3 0.3 2.3
.166 John Johnson 1978 TOT 11.9 45.3 41.5 16.1 2.0 6.1 4.2 0.8 0.4 3.3
.171 Damon Stoudamire 2004 POR 14.8 50.8 47.7 12.7 0.6 3.6 5.8 1.1 0.1 2.1
.174 Brad Miller 2007 SAC 13.5 50.8 45.9 11.5 1.6 8.1 4.5 0.8 0.8 2.2
.174 Doug Overton 2000 BOS 10.5 46.6 42.9 12.7 1.2 2.7 4.4 0.8 0.0 1.7
.176 Jim McMillian 1979 POR 11.9 49.9 44.6 10.7 2.1 5.1 4.3 1.3 0.4 2.1

I know it takes a little time for perception to catch up with reality, but does that look like a list of players that should be questioning whether or not they are the second star of a team? To me that group should be worrying if they can keep their job as second string point guards. It’s been a long time since McGrady has been a top tier player, but there’s no doubt that he fell off Sandy Alomar Cliff years ago. Below is a list of his comparables by age, which reminds me of one those don’t use drugs posters.

Age z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS eFG PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
19 .244 Kevin Garnett 1996 MIN 15.8 52.2 49.7 13.1 2.7 7.9 2.3 1.4 2.1 1.7
20 .121 Kevin Garnett 1997 MIN 18.2 53.7 50.2 15.7 2.3 7.4 2.8 1.3 2.0 2.1
21 .098 Kobe Bryant 2000 LAL 21.7 54.6 48.8 21.2 1.5 5.9 4.6 1.5 0.9 2.6
22 .072 LeBron James 2007 CLE 24.5 55.2 50.7 24.1 0.9 5.9 5.3 1.4 0.6 2.8
23 .145 LeBron James 2008 CLE 29.1 56.8 51.8 26.8 1.6 7.0 6.4 1.6 1.0 3.0
24 .121 Kobe Bryant 2003 LAL 26.2 55.0 48.3 26.0 1.1 6.0 5.1 1.9 0.7 3.0
25 .053 Kobe Bryant 2004 LAL 23.7 55.1 46.8 22.9 1.5 5.3 4.9 1.6 0.4 2.5
26 .114 Paul Pierce 2004 BOS 19.4 51.7 44.1 21.3 0.8 6.1 4.8 1.5 0.6 3.5
27 .175 Grant Hill 2000 DET 24.5 56.5 50.1 24.7 1.3 6.4 5.0 1.3 0.6 3.1
28 .083 Jamal Mashburn 2001 CHH 17.5 49.3 45.0 18.4 1.1 6.9 5.0 1.0 0.2 2.5
29 .088 Derek Anderson 2004 POR 15.1 49.9 44.0 13.8 0.5 3.6 4.5 1.3 0.1 1.8
30 .090 Travis Best 2003 MIA 11.2 47.3 42.7 12.0 0.5 2.9 5.1 0.9 0.1 2.1

You might note that at age 27 his most similar player is Grant Hill, but a score of .175 means they’re not very close. Actually McGrady rates close to these players because of his high usage. From ages 21-28 he averaged more than 21.1 pts/36, however his efficiency has been dropping since age 23. Usually guys with TS% south of 52% don’t get to take enough shots to average 20pts/36, but McGrady has managed that feat 3 times in his career (2006-2008). Speaking of his shooting efficiency…

McGrady-TS%

I added the red line, since the league average for TS% is around 54%. T-Mac had a very promising career, capping with a TS% of 56.4% as a 23 year old. A player’s career usually arcs up, levels off, then descends. But McGrady’s drops sharply and early at the peak, giving it the appearance of a mountain not the typical bell curve. If you looked at his career graph at age 23 and applied the normal career path, you’d think he’d be a perennial All Star. But as you can see that’s season was the exception, not the norm. It’s a shame, because McGrady is an exceptional passer and a capable rebounder. And he’s always been able to get to the line. Poor shot selection and an inconsistent three point shot (he’s been over 34% only once in the last 7 seasons) has kept him from achieving true greatness.

I had hoped that McGrady would benefit from a reduction in shot attempts upon arriving in New York. But even when he cut his FGA/36 to 12.6, T-Mac put up the lowest TS% of his career (46.6%). You know your career is over when you’re a former All Star trying to beat out Chris Duhon for a starting job, and you fail. Probably some team will sign him to a minor contract this year, I just hope it isn’t New York.

Report Card (5 point scale):
Offense: 1
Defense: 2
Teamwork: 3
Rootability: 2
Performance/Expectations: 1

Final Grade: F

2010 Game Thread: Knicks @ Warriors

It’s schadenfreude but I was pretty thrilled tonight when LeBron picked Jamal Crawford’s pocket with a minute & a half to go in the Cavs/Hawks game. For a second I dreamed it was the ugly past of the Knicks vs the bright future of the Knicks. I almost don’t want the off season to start, because it’s nice to dream of what could be rather than face the reality of a possible failure.

Anyway game on, late night Knick fans.

The Skinny

Lawdy, I almost feel like a real-live, honest-to-goodness journalist. The clip below is your humble correspondent with Matthew Modine, acclaimed star of stage and screen. Y’all may not know this, but when I’m not pounding nails into the floor w/my forehead watching the Nix I’m a hired shill for the theah-tuh. If you’d like to see more of Bob the mouthpiece (and who wouldn’t?), you can go to: www.loopedonbroadway.com. Anyhoo, so I’m “interviewing” Modine and I thought I’d lighten up the convo by discussing our favorite cagers and the prospects of acquiring a certain cat from Akron. Here’s his response…

So there you have it. Joker from Full Metal Jacket says it ain’t going to happen. Game over, man. Game over.

The Darkhorse MVP Candidate

With less than a 1/3 of the season left, it’s time to start thinking about who might end up with the MVP award. I think I’ve discovered a darkhorse candidate that might walk away with the award. He’s been toiling in obscurity in the mid-west, and many of you may not have even heard of him. His name is LeBron James.

Unlike the front runner for the award, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James doesn’t have that last second killer instinct, which is likely to cost him a few votes. This non-coastal newcomer has a different strategy that seems to be ruffling the feathers of the NBA establishment. Kobe has been following the tradition of allowing the opponent to stay close in games, only to make a shot in the final seconds to secure the victory. Instead James is attempting to win by scoring in the first 47.5 minutes of the game. The difference can be viewed by using the advanced stat called “points per game”. LeBron James leads the league with 29.8, while Kobe is a comfortable 4th with 27.9. James’ early game strategy shows up in even more obscure stats like rebounds per game (7.1 to 5.4), assist per game (8.5 to 4.6), blocked shots (1.0 to 0.3), and FG% (50.2 to 46.3).

I’m sure the mainstream media is barely aware of these new fangled stats (since they tend to vote solely by watching ESPN highlights), and James’ lack of dramatic shots will certainly hurt him in the polls. Another strike against him is his lack of having a superior surrounding cast. Bryant’s ability to whine about his teammates, threaten to leave to a rival team, ask for a trade, and force the team to break-up its dynasty has made the franchise build a team around him with the best talent available.

The best LeBron James can muster is to wear a Yankee hat. No wonder Kobe has an All Star center in Pau Gasol, former DPOY Ron Artest, and the most winningest coach of our generation Phil Jackson. Meanwhile James has a 37 year old Shaquille O’Neal and that guy on the Simpsons who is always trying to kill Bart. The Cavs would be a middling .500 team with Kobe in lieu of LeBron, a clear sign of James’ lack of team building skills.

I might be wide-eyed thinking the media might actually vote for the statistically superior player, but despite all the other evidence the numbers are clear on this one. It might be unpopular to say, but LeBron James should win the MVP award this year.

Can We Do Two? (Or, “Where’s My Cap At?”)

Drumroll please…

This is what the Knicks cap situation looks like for the long-awaited “Summer of LeBron,” going into the 2010-2011 season. Only four players are under contract.

Player 2010-2011
Curry 11,276,863
Gallinari 3,304,560
Chandler 2,130,481
Douglas 1,071,000
roster charge* 2,841,624

Committed salary: $20.62 million.

If the Knicks want truly max cap space, they could let every other player – from Bill Walker on up to David Lee – walk away for nothing. However, until those players are “renounced,” they continue to take up cap space. For most veterans, the “cap hold” is 150% of their most recent salary. For “non-Bird” free agents, i.e. those who just got traded, like Eddie House, it’s 120%.

McGrady 34,859,342
Harrington 15,040,313
Lee 10,500,000
Duhon 9,047,700
House 3,434,400
Bender 895,907

The Knicks also have two players with team options, JR Giddens and Bill Walker. Their contracts include a set price for picking up the option.

Giddens 1,100,640
Walker 854,389

Finally, Sergio Rodriguez is a restricted free agent.

Rodriguez 2,805,888

Like Nate Robinson and David Lee last summer, the Knicks can keep Rodriguez by making a qualifying offer — in Rodriguez’ case, $2.8 million. Or, as they did with Lee and Robinson, they could cut a deal for more. Ted Nelson suggests that Rodriguez has more bargaining power than most restricted free agents, since he could probably play in Spain, tax-free, for $5 million or more.  Of course, he may want to stay on the New York stage, even if it means accepting less money.

Where will the cap fall? It depends on who you ask, but bet on a number between $51 million and $56 million. A maximum starting salary is 30% of the cap, or in the $15-17 million range. In other words, the Knicks COULD probably sign two max free agents – if they’re willing to renounce David Lee, and fill out the roster with minimum salary guys. Or, they could sign LeBron James, give $9 million to Lee and have $6-8 million left for additional free agents, or to absorb salary in trades.

Another number to keep in mind: players are allowed annual raises of 10.5%.  The Knicks could start Lee at $8 million, and by including maximum raises, make it a 6-year deal for a total of $60.6 million.  Teams signing other teams’ free agents are only allowed to make a 5-year offer.

Let the arguments begin!

*For the roster charge, I used (6 x the rookie minimum of $473,604). By league rules, the Knicks must carry at least 12 players on the roster, so technically, with only 4 under contract, the roster charge going into the offseason is 8 x $473,604  (or $3.8 million).  However, for every free agent we sign, the roster charge goes down by one player. What we’re really trying to figure out is: can the Knicks sign LeBron James and Dwyane Wade? To do that math, we only need figure on 6 remaining roster slots.

— additional design and inspiration by Thomas B.

An Open Letter to Donnie Walsh

Dear Mr. Walsh,

My name is Jon Abbey, and I’m a lifelong Knicks fan (“Hi, Jon!”). I won’t say “long-suffering”, because it is only sports, but it hasn’t always been the most pleasurable ride, although there have been bright spots along the way. My first memories are of the teams of the late seventies: Campy Russell, Marvin Webster, Sly Williams, Mike Glenn (such a sweet stroke), Ray Williams and Sugar Ray. If I wasn’t hooked already, the famous Bernard King/Isiah Thomas showdown in a deciding game 5 when I was a senior in high school clinched it. There have been high points since: two Finals trips, nine straight seasons making at least the second round of the playoffs, Anthony Mason’s unique brand of studliness, Nate’s game in Atlanta a few weeks ago, and I’m sure plenty more. But the bottom line, seeing the boys in orange and blue win it all, has yet to happen in my conscious-of-basketball-lifetime, which is getting close to its fourth decade.

But we’re all well aware of this sad history, so why am I repeating it? Because, for the first time in a fandom that stretches back to the Carter presidency, I see a way that we can be a serious title contender, and even more than that, one with a relatively big window to win titles. I’m sure that you are aware of most or all of what I’m about to write, but on the off chance any of it hasn’t occurred to you and could possibly be useful in any way, I feel compelled to at least get it out there.

So, what’s my plan? Obviously any realistic title contender we’d have would begin with LeBron and builds around him. This is the team I would try to construct next season (age as of next October):

PF-LeBron James (25 years, 9 months)
PG-Joe Johnson (29 years, 3 months)
C-David Lee (27 years, 6 months; 6’9″)
SG-Wilson Chandler (23 years, 5 months, 6’8″)
SF-Danilo Gallinari (22 years, 2 months, 6’10”)

My assembled five doesn’t have a natural PG or a conventional center, but I think it’s a great fit for a starting lineup for D’Antoni, who seems quite reluctant to play conventional centers anyway. With so much offense from the starters, the bench players could do other things, a distributing PG, a defensive big man a la Przybilla (I’ve always been a big Brendan Haywood fan, also a FA this summer, although this relies in part on if D’Antoni will ever play him), maybe Jeffries as a defensive stopper swingman, maybe Jordan Hill can develop into an energy backup big.

Also, under this plan, NY wouldn’t undergo the almost total roster turnover that we’ve been thinking they would have to, which should speed up the team cohesion process as well.

Gone: Harrington, Hughes, Nate, Duhon
Arrivals: LeBron, Johnson, a PG, maybe Haywood

Why Joe Johnson and not Wade or Bosh? Wade is more injury prone, and would have a bit of trouble being a second fiddle. As for Bosh, the other four starters can all guard the post and Bosh is a more expensive, possibly slightly better version of Lee. Additionally Johnson should be the least expensive of the lot.

Of course it first depends on landing LeBron, but if we did, Lee and Johnson would be the complementary stars on a title contender for years to come. There could be a few ways to achieve this, but one avenue would be to involve Nike as a third party. Having a LeBron/Johnson duo in metropolis like New York would be a marketing dream for them, which in turn would mean more money for King James.

I’ll leave the specific financial details to other people, but I think this could happen if LeBron wanted it to. Presumably Johnson would be into the Pippen role (he’s not going to be the best guy on a title team, but he could certainly be a #2 to LeBron), and Lee would want to stay in New York for the ride. If LeBron says yes, assuming he’s willing to leave cap room for Johnson and Lee, they shouldn’t be too hard to get in line.

Selling points to LeBron?

1) Instant Title Contender
It doesn’t take much around him, but Joe Johnson would probably be the most talented player LeBron has been teamed with. Add a few role players on the bench, this team could make a run very quickly.

2) New York City
Clearly this is and always has been our main selling point, coupled with the Nets not getting to Brooklyn for at least two seasons. NY is a hoops city (more than football or baseball) when we’re given the chance, and LeBron would instantly be the best player in Knicks history the moment he signed the contract. He’d have a chance to own NY pro hoops history, which could never happen in Chicago or LA or Boston. In Bill Simmons’ ‘Book of Basketball’, the highest Knick in his alltime player rankings is Clyde Frazier at 32. LeBron was already #20 when the rankings were set in early 2009. New York basketball would be LeBron James.

3) The Yankees
In an unprecedented joint move in a clawback for all of the tax breaks and cash they gave for the Stadium, the city of New York gets the Yankees to promise that as long as LeBron plays for the Knicks, any September that he wants, he can be added to the 40 man roster and activated, to sit on the bench with his boys and maybe even occasionally get in a lopsided game. This one is only partly serious, but should at least be investigated by the powers that be before being dismissed. Every little bit helps. :)

4) His Legacy
In addition to being the greatest basketball player in New York City history, under D’Antoni, he would have more freedom to be a kind of player we’ve never seen before. He could be Magic Johnson with Dwight Howard’s athleticism. He could try to average a triple double for a season if he wanted, he could defend the other team’s post players at times (hopefully not too much, this would wear on even him over the course of the year, but as another option to keep him interested), etc, etc. D’Antoni is far from perfect as a coach, but the amount of freedom that he allows his players is pretty unique and why (good) players love playing for him.

So, Donnie, this is your chance to make basketball matter again in the Big Apple. Talk to Nike, talk to Bloomberg, talk to the Yankees, talk to whoever you need to. Make this happen. July 1 is approaching fast.