The Knicks Could Take A Lesson From Sci-Fi

“We’ve made too many compromises already. Too many retreats. They invade our space and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further!”
Jean-Luc Piccard

I’m not angry or upset at the Knicks latest deal. But I’m not jumping for joy when I think about it. I’m left indifferent to Isiah’s new deal, kinda like Jerramy Stevens’ hands to a well-thrown football. It’s no secret that New York could use a small forward to end the Keith Van Horn curse. Since they sent the high-socked spiked-haired one packing, Van Horn’s successors at small forward have all been disasters. Tim Thomas suddenly turned into tiny-Tim, Jerome Williams fell victim to a rule not even named after him, Trevor Ariza is playing like a 20 year old, Quentin Richardson is playing like a 25 year old with a 40 year old’s back, and Penny Hardaway is playing with himself (since he’s not on the team he has to practice by himself – you perverts!).

It’s certainly possible that Jalen Rose can end this curse. Rose is a multi-skilled offensive player, who can handle the ball from the 3 spot and provide a little bit of scoring. New Yorkers might remember when Jalen Rose torched the Knicks for 20 second half points in a 2005 Raptor victory. The Knicks have had problems finding a backup ball handler, a problem only exacerbated by the injury to Marbury. Although the Knicks still need a backup point guard, Rose’s ability to play point-forward will help the team in that respect. He could be the small forward they’ve been looking for all season, and his ability to run the offense might take the pressure off of Crawford & Robinson. The extra year on the deal doesn’t hurt anyone except James Dolan’s accountant, and if there is anyone who can turn a mid-late first into gold it’s Isiah Thomas.

On the other hand, Rose might go the way of the last 5 small forwards who donned the blue & orange. Even in his Pacer heyday, Jalen was a good but not great offensive player. While Rose is a skilled passer for a swingman, he still coughs it up a decent amount, and the last thing the Knicks need is more turnovers. Or maybe the last thing the Knicks need is another porous defender. If that wasn’t enough, Rose is a bit of a head case, ranking about a 5 on the 10 point Artest scale. Rose has complained about playing time, and only have to look at the Knicks bench to see how far those with a skewed sense of entitlement get with Coach Brown. When Marbury comes back and demands the ball in his hands, will an unhappy Rose do a Johnny Cash impersonation and show up dressed in black? Or maybe Larry Brown will get fed up when Jalen allows one too many opponents a closer look at the rim. As for the draft pick, maybe Isiah’s luck runs out? Or maybe he gets another Robinson or Lee: that is a nice role player, but no one that will change the franchise.

So while we wait for the Jalen Rose experience to play out, the question that keeps popping in my mind is “is this how it’s going to be for the next few years?” Are the Knicks going to cash in expiring deals for longer contracts of the league’s unwanted mediocre players? I have the bad feeling that next year I’m going to be writing another blog about the Maurice Taylor/Theo Ratliff trade. The year after, Malik Rose for Wally Szczerbiak.

And my feelings are warranted. The Knicks sent Camby for McDyess, and McDyess for Marbury. They sent Keith Van Horn for Tim Thomas, and Thomas for Curry. Othella Harrington for Jamal Crawford. Kurt Thomas for Quentin Richardson. At the time of each deal, it would have been hard to argue that the Knicks didn’t get the better player. However taken as a whole the deals have extended New York’s stay in salary cap hell. The aftermath has left fans in some kind of rooting purgatory, where we concede any hopes of being seriously competitive both now and in the near future. The Knicks are stuck in a vicious cycle of absorbing salary to get better, but not being able to get better because of those long term contracts. Since the last Finals team fell apart, New York has been a skipping record, waiting for someone to move the needle. Watching the Knick franchise is like watching one of their games. When the Knicks are down by 18 in the 3rd & claw their way back to a single point deficit I don’t say to myself “that’s great they’re coming back!” Instead I ponder “why are they always losing & playing from behind?” And that’s exactly how I feel about the direction this team is in.

I know rebuilding takes time, but then again I’m not sure if this is rebuilding. Isiah didn’t inherit an ideal situation, but he’s only addressed the issue of youth. The Knicks are still capped out. The Knicks are still on the red side of the ledger when it comes to draft picks. And the Knicks still don’t seem to understand that it’s important to get players that can defend. The Jalen Rose trade is a good example of this, of the 4 things the Knicks sorely need to move forward as a franchise, the only long term benefit is the draft pick. If New York is serious about rebuilding eventually somebody, whether it be Dolan, Isiah, or whoever is the GM, is going to have to draw a line in the sand and say this salary cap nonsense ends here.

Losing <> Rebuilding

People say this is a rebuilding year, we are suppose to lose.

This is rebuilding. It just doesn’t seem like it because this should have been Scott Layden’s responsibility.

this team is four years behind schedule thanks to Scott Layden’s refusal to do anything that resembled a rebuilding process. What we are seeing now is that rebuilding process, more or less, and you can expect to see this for the next two or three years because that’s at least how long it takes to turn things around.

The fans say the Knicks are rebuilding. The press says the team is rebuilding. Even the Knicks front office has admitted as much. But I’m not one who just accepts conventional wisdom. So I ask “should the label ‘rebuilding’ be applied to the Knicks?” I could call myself “Dick Cheney” or “Chancellor of the Klingon Empire,” but if my actions don’t match that of an evil tyrant, then those descriptions are rejected. However if I choose to call myself “KnickerBlogger” and perform duties that others would expect from a “KnickerBlogger”, then the term is accurate.

So what does “rebuilding” mean when applied to a sports team? Rebuilding teams are concerned with winning in the future, while their opposite, competing teams, are concerned with winning now. Competing teams usually trade away their draft picks for players that can help them immediately. For example last year the Spurs traded away a pair of first round picks in order to acquire Nazr Mohammed for their championship run. One characteristic of a rebuilding franchise is a team that stockpiles draft picks or tries to improve on the quality of their picks.

Although there are other elements of rebuilding, such as freeing cap space or trading for players, teams still need the draft to improve themselves. Signing Steve Nash or trading for Shaq would not have made their respective teams championship caliber had those teams not drafted All Stars like Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, and Dwayne Wade. Building a strong team without the draft is possible, but it’s not a legitimate strategy. For instance, to repeat the Pistons success another team would have to unearth gems like Ben Wallace and Chauncy Billups. Digging through the league’s unwanted bin looking for All Stars is not a high percentage move.

So one way to judge whether the term rebuilding can be applied to Isiah Thomas’ Knicks, is by looking at each trade regarding draft picks and see if it falls under the “win now” or “win later” category.

Thomas’ first major move was to trade the Knicks 2004 1st round pick, and a conditional future 1st round pick to the Phoenix Suns in the Stephon Marbury deal. While Marbury is young enough to be considered “win later”, the picks moved, the contracts taken on, and the young talent traded away pushes this trade into the “win now” pile.

Isiah’s second draft pick transaction was the Keith Van Horn trade. In this deal he sent a 2nd rounder in order to get Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed. A year later the Knicks would parlay Nazr Mohammed into a pair of first round picks, clearly a rebuilding move. So let’s combine these two moves into one and add it to the “win later” pile. On the same day Nazr was shipped out of New York, they sent a 2nd round pick to acquire Maurice Taylor. Isiah Thomas might be the first GM in history to have a “rebuild the franchise” trade and a “compete right now” trade on the same day.

Over the summer, New York made two deals involving their draft picks. A draft day deal had the Knicks moving up from the 54th pick to the 21st pick (Nate Robinson) losing only veteran Kurt Thomas. Clearly a “win later” move. A few weeks after, the Knicks traded for Eddy Curry. Although Curry’s status as a former 4th overall pick, might give the impression of a rebuilding move, the surrounding elements clearly mark it as a “win now” deal. The Knicks gave up a slew of picks, including next year’s #1, the option for the Bulls to swap #1 picks the year after, and two 2nd round picks (2007 & 2009).

If you are scoring at home, Isiah’s Knicks have made 3 “win now” deals, and 2 “win later” deals. Optimists might say that the Marbury and Curry deals were “win later” proposals swinging it 4-1 in favor of rebuilding moves. However let’s look at how Isiah Thomas has treated New York’s draft picks year by year to get an overall picture:

2003: The 2003 draft was handled by Layden, but no players drafted remain due to Isiah’s trades.
2004: Traded away 1st round pick (#16).
2005: Traded away their 2nd round pick. Traded for a late 1st round pick (#30 – David Lee). Traded for a second round pick (#54), then traded that pick to move up to a mid 1st (#21 Nate Robinson).
2006: Traded away their 1st round pick (based on Knicks record – currently projected to be a lottery pick). Traded away their second round pick. Traded for 1st round pick (Spurs – projected to be a late pick).
2007: Gave the Bulls an option to swap 1st round picks. Traded away their 2nd round pick.
2008+: The Knicks have traded away a future 1st round pick that has to be used before 2010. They also have traded their 2009 2nd round pick.

In the 8 years between 2003 and 2010, the Knicks have essentially traded their own first round pick at least 4 times (5 if you include the 2007 Bulls’ swap). They’ve traded their own second round pick 5 times. While they have acquired 1st rounders as well, none will be impact players. In the next three years it’s likely that the Knicks will not have any of their first round picks, and only 1 of their second round picks. Simply put, the Knicks have taken the free draft picks given to them by the league and downgraded them or flat out gave them away at nearly every turn.

Another characteristic of a rebuilding team is a losing record, and right now the Knicks are losing at an alarming rate. However just because a team can’t buy a win doesn’t necessarily mean it’s rebuilding. To use the dreaded “r” word, the team should be actively trying to win in the future. For example the 1997 Spurs won only 20 games, but they weren’t rebuilding. San Antonio lost David Robinson for the year, and they knew they would be getting him back the next season. They didn’t trade Avery Johnson or Vinnie Del Negro for a couple of picks, despite the pair being on the wrong side of thirty. From the evidence above, the Knicks aren’t rebuilding either. They’re just doing a really bad job of “winning now.”


Specials thanks to the below two web sites for providing the information used in this article.

http://www.hoopshype.com/general_managers/isiah_thomas.htm
http://www5.realgm.com/src_future_draftpicks.php

Knicks Unbearable To Watch

I turned the TV off.

And I rarely turn the tv off. Even in a blowout loss, there are a few interesting things that can make the game worthwhile. Sometimes the 11th & 12th man will make an appearance, and the end of the bench guys are always fan favorites. In the tail end of his career, assistant coach Herb Williams would come off the bench to cheers of “Herb! Herb! Herb!” Unfortunately Larry Brown’s rotation is so deep that seeing the 11th man isn’t reserved for blowouts. Hence the little joy I got last year from a Bruno Sundov sighting isn’t even there this year.

Although the chance of coming back from a 20 point deficit is miniscule, being around for one can be an exhilarating experience. The best NFL game I ever watched was the Jets Monday night game against the Dolphins, where they rallied from 23 points down in the final quarter and won the game in OT. But watching the last Knicks’ game, I felt like Popeye after he’s gotten his ass kicked for the last time. “I?ve stood all I can stands, and I cants stands no more!” And off the tv went.

Right now, the Knicks have sunk to rock bottom. It was understandable when they lost to the Clippers and Suns just last week. Both teams are having good seasons, and the Knicks went into the 4th quarter of each game either tied or winning. But after those two games, they lost by 20 to the Bucks, and by 15 to the Magic. If back to back humiliations weren’t bad enough, they followed it up by getting laughed out of Atlanta.

Normally this would be acceptable for a rebuilding team. I can watch the Jets because I can find a silver lining whether they win or lose. If they win, well it should be obvious why that would be a joyous occasion. However, if they lose, at least I can console myself knowing the Jets are getting a better position in next year’s draft. Unfortunately the Knick have denied me even that. New York is tied for the 4th worst record in the league, and as the Bucks showed last year it’s entirely possible to win the draft lottery from that position. However the Knicks have already traded their first round pick unconditionally to the Bulls in the Eddy Curry deal. I can’t even take solace that every loss would make their second round pick better, because they’ve traded that pick away for Maurice Taylor. I can’t take solace that they could grab the top pick in the 2007 draft, because they’ve given the Bulls the option to swap those picks as well.

In other words, every Knick defeat lacks any positive merit. Isiah Thomas has gone all in with this year’s team, and right now he has the worst hand at the table. He’s sold off everything the Knicks own in the next two years to do it, and so far the results are 6-16. Right now Isiah’s only chance is some superstar forcing his way to New York, and those odds are as slim as getting an inside royal flush. Boston is not going to trade Paul Pierce to a division rival, Kevin Garnett is happy now that the ‘Wolves are winning again. LeBron, Kobe, Duncan, Nowitzki, Amare, Nash, or McGrady, aren’t going anywhere. The Knicks are the guy at the poker table with a shit hand, not drawing any cards, who keeps peaking at them hoping that somehow they’ve changed from the last time he looked.

So the next time you’re watching the Knicks, and they’re getting blown out by one of the worst teams in the league, don’t think of how they might have gotten Rudy Gay, Andrea Bargnani, or LaMarcus Aldridge. Just turn the tv off.

Robinson’s Shot Overshaddows Frye’s Start

Although it was Nate Robinson who earned most of the plaudits for his single game heroics on Saturday, it was another Knick rookie that took a step forward in his burgeoning career. This weekend Channing Frye was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time in his career. Frye adjusted well to the transition, scoring 21 points on 57% shooting, and turned the ball over only once. Since Knicks coach Larry Brown changes his lineups as often as he changes his underwear, it’s uncertain whether Frye’s performance will earn him a permanent spot in the starting 5.

Many Knick fans were uncertain what to expect from the number 8 pick in the draft. Despite raising some eyebrows with the strength portion of the NBA Pre-Draft work outs, the power forward out of Arizona never shed the soft label from early on in his college career. Frye didn’t earn a spot in the Knicks’ rotation with a weak summer league, including one game where he amassed 10 fouls. Coming into the season I wrote this about him:

“I?m still not sure what to expect out of Frye. His frame resembles that of Marcus Camby, but he lacks Camby?s high flying theatrics. On the other hand Frye has a nice touch from the outside and should make a fine partner for Marbury on the pick & roll. With the depth at power forward and Brown?s predisposition towards rookies it?s hard to tell exactly who will see playing time.”

Looking at his last 5 games, my comments are laughable for die hard Knick fans whose faith in Frye never swayed. In that span, Channing has roughly averaged 19 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block. However, I don’t feel so bad about my concern over the rookie power forward considering that the New York coach didn’t have much faith in him either.

Frye was a DNP for the Knicks’ opening season loss to Boston, and was played sparingly afterwards. After his 19 point outburst in as many minutes on November 13th, Brown kept the rookie on the court for only 11 minutes the day after. In that game, the Knicks struggled to beat a shorthanded Jazz squad. New York managed only 73 points, and they could have benefited from Frye’s scoring touch. Instead they used Antonio Davis (22min, 0pts), Malik Rose (19min, 7pts), and David Lee (12min, 2pts). Maybe that performance prompted Brown to give Frye more minutes over the last 5 games.

On the offensive end of the court, Channing Frye’s outside touch is reminiscent of Kurt Thomas. His slender build doesn’t make him as good of a pick and roll partner as the former Knick, although he’s accurate with the jumper facing the hoop from at least 19 feet. Instead Frye takes advantage of opposing big men fearing the unfamiliar confines outside the paint. Channing is not devoid of an interior game and he can hit a jump hook from inside the paint. The statistics back up Frye’s offensive performance, as he is leading the Knicks in scoring per minute (23pts/40) and shooting percentage (51.2% eFG).

Aside from his scoring prowess, Frye’s rebounding has been a pleasant surprise. Coming into the season, the Knicks had lost their three best rebounders in Sweetney, Thomas, and Jerome Williams. Additionally Isiah’s two main acquisitions, Jerome James and Eddy Curry, were notoriously bad in that regard. However Frye has the second best rebound rate (14.7) among the Knick regulars. In fact Channing is showing a well rounded game, averaging 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks per 40 minutes.

Unfortunately for Frye rookie card holders, his status in the near future is uncertain. Due to Eddy Curry and Matt Barnes’ injuries, Brown has been forced to move Antonio Davis to center and Malik Rose to small forward. When both players are healthy, Channing Frye is going to have more competition than just Maurice Taylor, David Lee, and Jackie Butler. My guess is that when that time comes, Frye is going to feel the crunch as Coach Brown continues to rotate his players in order to gain some knowledge of their skills and keeps them prepared to play. Curry will hold onto the center spot, even if for only 24 minutes a game and Antonio Davis will stay on in his role as captain of the defense. Frye will be the primary big man off the bench, and he’ll see extra minutes on nights that Curry or Davis are plagued with foul trouble. Barring injury and considering Brown’s fondness of Davis’ defensive ability, Frye’s ceiling his rookie year might be a spot alongside Davis for the Knick fourth quarters.

Knicks 2006 Preview Part I

Center: This is one area that the Knicks have certainly upgraded. While Nazr Mohammed filled the position reasonably well last year, his departure left a 6’10 foot void in the middle of Knicks’ lineup. Herb Williams did the best he could with a rotation of Mike Sweetney, Kurt Thomas, Malik Rose, Maurice Taylor, and any fan 6’7 or taller willing to don a uniform for a few minutes.

This year Knick fans should notice an instant transformation at the 5. When the Knicks acquired Curry, the press was quick to compare him to Patrick Ewing, but I was reminded of another young Knick center. Marcus Camby arrived in New York in a controversial summer deal. Both players were former high lottery picks, with health issues, whose previous teams had soured on them, and were brought over in controversial summer trades. If Gothamites are looking for a bright comparison, it would be fantastic if Curry’s could break out for New York like Camby did years ago.

There is one problem with comparing Curry to either Ewing or Camby. Both of the former Knick centers excelled at rebounding & defense. In the 2006 Basketball Forecast, John Hollinger said that Curry was among the 5 worst rebounding centers in the league, meanwhile Dan Rosenbaum had him ranked as the 5th worst defensive center in the league. Watching him during the preseason, Curry’s defense appears as poor as advertised. His ‘D’ suffers from poor footwork, being out of shape, and a general indifference. The Knicks young center is a beast when he has the ball, but shies away from contact at all other times. The blocked shots that I recall from preseason were from the weak side, and unfortunately Curry doesn’t have Camby’s athleticism to be a force in that manner.

Eddy is a fantastic scorer who does so at a very high rate. Big men that shoot well usually get a lot of easy buckets from tip-ins, but Curry was a pitiful 89th in offensive rebounds per minute last year. This just means that Curry’s skills as a scorer are even more impressive than his 54% might indicate. Luckily 82games.com tracks such things, and Curry only scored 2% of the time on “tips”. In comparison Nazr Mohammed rebounding tips comprised 7% of his scores, and Mike Sweetney tipped the ball in 4% of the time. Kurt Thomas matched Curry’s 2%, which is a bad sign since the pick and roll specialist Thomas only ventured into the paint when he was lost.

Eddy’s size presents problems for opponents trying to defend him. Defenders that that allow him to get too deep in the paint are likely to fall victim to one of his variety of post moves. Fronting Curry isn’t a better proposition, as his soft hands allow him to handle the lob and he can finish the alleyoop as well as any big man in the league. Eddy Curry’s addition means that the Knicks have a legitimate second scoring threat next to Marbury, which should improve New York’s offense tremendously.

Before acquiring Curry, the Knicks signed Jerome James to help bolster the middle. Like Curry, and unlike any of the Knicks centers last year, James’ size is more than adequate for the position. Jerome will be able to protect the rim, and will provide a bit of muscle as his 8.4 fouls per 40 minutes will attest to. Unfortunately, James also shares Curry’s lack of rebounding and offseason conditioning.

The Knicks also have a pair of young players that should be able to fill in at center for a few minutes a game. The number 8 pick in this year’s draft, Channing Frye, and undrafted CBA prospect Jackie Butler have gotten good reviews from Larry Brown. Of the two, Butler is more likely to see time at the 5 for two reasons. The first is that Frye’s slender build will make him more suitable for power forward his first year. The second is despite his inexperience, Butler is the Knicks’ best rebounder. Unfortunately like most young players, Jackie finds himself committing mental mistakes. In one summer league game, Butler had 3 whistles on him in what seemed like a 5 minute stretch. If he wants to earn playing time, he’ll have to cut back on the gaffs.

Power Forward: In recent history, the Knicks have had a glut of power forwards. This year seems to be no exception. Less than a month ago I asked Knick fans “By January 1st, who is the Knicks’ starting PF?” The most popular choice was Malik Rose, which was my answer as well. I chose Rose due to the Knicks lack of defenders, but after watching a few preseason games, I’m going to switch to Antonio Davis.

Malik Rose is an intelligent player who understands the concept of team defense. Rose is rarely lost in a defensive rotation and has a sneaky array of moves to thwart opposing players. However he is staring down the wrong side of 30, and won’t be able to compensate for his lack of size with physical ability anymore. Davis’ height has allowed him to age more gracefully than Rose. Despite nearing the end of his career, Davis’ rebounding and defense is still at an acceptable level. Although Rose was never a big shot blocker, his per minute rate is half of what it was just a year ago, and less than a third of what it was at its peak. Malik’s rebounding dipped noticeably as well, grabbing only 7.4 boards per 40 minutes for the Knicks.

If rebounding and defense will keep Davis as the starter, then it’ll be the same thing that will keep Maurice Taylor off the court. Taylor will have the role of scoring big man off the bench, and he’ll be limited to 15 or 20 minutes a game, depending on how often the Knicks are behind. Joining Taylor on the bench will be the rookies, Channing Frye and David Lee. Although Frye was taken much earlier in the draft, Lee has been the more impressive of the two. A natural lefty, Lee has become ambidextrous and is a handful (punny!) for defenders when he’s in the post. He can score with either hand, and seems to have a wide array of moves in the paint. Lee was thought of as a good rebounder in college, and hopefully that skill will transfer over to the NBA.

I’m still not sure what to expect out of Frye. His frame resembles that of Marcus Camby, but he lacks Camby’s high flying theatrics. On the other hand Frye has a nice touch from the outside and should make a fine partner for Marbury on the pick & roll. With the depth at power forward and Brown’s predisposition towards rookies it’s hard to tell exactly who will see playing time.

Point Guard: I bet you thought I was going to talk about the Knicks’ small forwards, but the only other position I’m sure about is the point guard spot. Despite reports of a Brown enforced Iversonian-esque move to shooting guard, Stephon Marbury will run the point for the Knicks. The reason is simple, neither Crawford nor rookie Nate Robinson are able to run the point for an extended period of time. Crawford still suffers from poor shot selection, and while the NBA doesn’t keep it as an official stat, I would bet that he led the Knicks in airballs from off balanced jumpers this preseason. The Knicks will rely on Jamal to run the point for a few minutes a game, but leaving the ball in his hands for too long is like putting a gun in Charlton Heston’s hands at an NRA rally. The pressure to shoot becomes unbearable.

Meanwhile Robinson is still learning what he can do at this level. Ironically his rebounding has remained impressive as he tied for the Knicks lead in total rebounds. This should be taken with a grain of salt considering he was also second in total minutes and the Knicks don’t have a lot of good rebounders. Nate’s biggest weakness has been his passing, which shouldn’t be a surprise because he’s more of a shooting guard that needs the ball in his hands than a point guard. He throws too many lazy college passes which end up as NBA turnovers. The Knicks diminutive guard is best suited at going to the hoop with reckless abandon, and using his blazing speed to convert steals into easy buckets. It will be those attributes that keep him Brown’s rotation.


Tune in tomorrow for Part II. For optimists I will have a best case scenario for the 2006 Knicks. For pessimists, there will be a worst case in hell prediction. For small forwards & shooting guards I’ll break down those positions as well.

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.

Richardson Deal More of the Same

Looking at Isiah Thomas’ trades one-by-one, it’s hard to find many that I’d throw in the ‘losing’ pile. It’s hard to argue with getting a talent like Stephon Marbury, especially considering what New York gave up. Trading Keith Van Horn was an unpopular move, but Nazr Mohammed’s development made the deal a steal for New York. While trading him a year later looked bad in the short term, the Knicks received two draft picks to potentially rebuild upon. I’m sure there wasn’t a wet eye in the house when Clarence Weatherspoon was sent to Houston, Shandon Anderson was bought out, or Slavko Vranes was cut.

On the other hand, there are few deals Isiah Thomas has done that I would disagree with. I wasn’t crazy about the Crawford deal (although I was more upset of Frank Williams being included in the trade) and I called the Maurice Taylor trade “a head-scratcher“. If you’re scoring at home, Isiah’s seems to come out with the long end of the stick more often than not. So why haven’t the Knicks shown improvement over that time?

The answer is simple; while Isiah Thomas has done well deal-to-deal he hasn’t had a overall plan with New York. The most comprehensive scheme I’ve heard from the Knicks president is that he wants to get “younger and more athletic”. Undoubtedly the Knicks are younger & more athletic than they were when he arrived, but last year they finished 4 games worse than 2003, Scott Layden’s last full year.

It’s because “younger and athletic” doesn’t mean better. If you look back at the 1994 team, how many of these players would you call young & athletic out of Ewing, Oakley, Starks, Anthony, Davis, Mason, and Harper? Chris Anderson may more nimble than Tim Duncan, but “the Bird Man” has trouble scoring even when he’s got the court to himself for 60 seconds. Physical ability is important in sports, but in the NBA, you also need skill and talent as well.

As far as I can tell, the Knicks have two major problems: defense and money. The Knicks were 26th on defense last year, and they had the highest team salary in the league. The Kurt Thomas for Quentin Richardson trade may be a good deal on it’s own, but it really doesn’t address either of New York’s major issues. In fact it typifies Isiah’s reign as New York GM. Get an athletic guy in his mid 20s who’s available because we’re willing to take on a lengthy contract.

Just observe Isiah’s 4 biggest acquisitions. None of Marbury, Thomas, Crawford, or (if the rumors are true) Richardson are even passable defenders. While Stephon is a legitimate offensive force who makes up for his deficiencies on the other end of the court, the same can’t be said of the other three. In regards to the ledgers, Tim Thomas’ contract mercifully ends after next season, but the others will be around for at least 4 more seasons. Pundits will call this trade a good deal for New York, because Richardson is younger, his contract is only a year longer, and they need a small forward more than a power forward. To me, this deal is more of the same. The Knicks won’t improve until they fix their defense and get smarter with the books.