Weekend Thread 11/2/2008 (or Mitch Lawrence May {Insert Anything You Want Here})

Don’t forget, New York plays tonight at 6pm. So make sure you change the Giants-Cowboys game at halftime to catch the Knicks and Bucks. Some news from the local papers…

The Post’s Mike Vaccaro doing his Humpty Dumpty impersonation, staying on the fence on the Marbury/D’Antoni issue.

Those who chanted for Marbury had every right to do it (despite what D’Antoni might really think) because as a basketball player Marbury has never been a bust, and at 31 should still have plenty of game left in his legs. But D’Antoni has every right to purge the very essence of Marbury, too, because if his talent hasn’t failed him as a Knick, his time here has been a failure nonetheless.

A small blurb at Newsday about Walsh’s handling of Zach Randolph.

Several team executives are marveling at Donnie Walsh’s handling of the Zach Randolph situation. “Donnie is playing his hand perfectly on Zach,” said one executive, predicting that teams will be lining up at the trade deadline with better offers for Z-Bo than Walsh turned down this past summer.

Mitch Lawrence, proving that you can make up titles as long as you put the word “may” in them, has an article titled “Donnie Walsh may ask Stephon Marbury to stay home.” Of course, there aren’t any quotes from Walsh saying that he will ask Marbury to stay at home. Walsh’s quotes from the article:

“I’d like to get into it and find out as soon as possible,” Walsh said after practice Saturday in Greenburgh. “I want to direct my attention to it, that’s for sure. I don’t think it’s fair to anybody, really. In other words, find out where this can go and then make a decision.”

“It’s going to take a little while to work itself out and see what we should do with this,” Walsh said. “I haven’t talked to anybody about it. I think I need to know more about it. The way it should work out, it will work out. I’m not sure what that is right now.”

“Look, I think it’s hard on Stephon Marbury,” Walsh said. “It’s been hard. I think he’s dealt with it very well.”

Prediction Time

My guess is that the Knicks won’t win more than 28 games. It’s not that I think the team hasn’t improved. I think Duhon pushing Marbury to the bench gives them depth at guard. With Duhon & Collins the Knicks have two able perimeter defenders – something they haven’t had since perhaps Sprewell & Ward. Maybe even Ward & Harper, since Latrell spent most of his time at small forward.

I think replacing Curry in the starting lineup with David Lee is a considerable improvement. Lee is not only a better player, but a Lee/Randolph front court compliments D’Antoni’s coaching style. Since both are able rebounders, there should be more fast break opportunities. And Lee can play off the ball more with Randolph than Curry would. Also I think Chandler will eventually supplant Richardson at small forward eventually, and that will help the team as well.

I think Mike D’Antoni is a good coach. In fact I think he’s the best coach this team has had since Van Gundy. Many thought D’Antoni preferred veterans over newbies, and the Knick prospects would suffer. Yet it seems many of the youngsters are favored by D’Antoni (Robinson, Chandler, Lee, and even Gallinari). He has a coherent structure for the offense. For the first time in years I feel that the Knicks are actually drawing up plays during timeouts instead of taking everyone’s dinner orders.

So why all the negativity? (If you can call a 5 game improvement negativity.) First is that the East has improved drastically. Jermaine O’Neal makes the Raptors better. Elton Brand makes the Sixers better. Beasley and a full season from Wade & Marion make the Heat better. Mo Williams might make the Cavs better.

My second cause for concern is the roster makeup. It’s thought that Zach Randolph will be moved at the deadline. Let’s just assume that the Knicks move him for a lesser player. Who takes his place in the lineup? The guy they traded for? Well by definition that player should be worse. (Who would take on contract & give up a better player?) If not then maybe Eddy Curry? Or Jared Jeffries? Or Gallinari? None of these will translate into more wins this season.

And who is to say that the Knicks don’t move Lee, Chandler, or Robinson? The team is rebuilding, and it’s hard to say what the roster will look like in March. Even without any changes, the team is paper thin at small forward. The depth chart is two deep: Chandler and Richardson. If one or both get hurt the Knicks will struggle.

So with all that in mind, I’ll stick with 28 wins for the Knicks in 2009. However it doesn’t matter to me how many wins the team gets. This year the team will be more fun to watch. Already it seems that the younger players like Lee, Robinson, and Chandler are going to get more minutes.


Some other predictions from around the league.

Hollinger: 28 wins

Ball Don’t Lie: 23 wins

Yahoo/Accuscore: 25 wins

Straight Bangin: 30 wins

Posting & Toasting: 36 wins

UPDATED: Basketball Prospectus: 24

Knicks 2009 Season Preview Part IV

Part I here.
Part II here.
Part III here.

FRONTCOURT:

During the summer it was assumed that both Stephon Marbury and Zach Randolph would be playing for other teams once the season started. Yet somehow both managed to stay on the New York roster. Randolph was twice mentioned in trade talks, but both times it seemed that the other party wanted too much to take his contract off New York’s hands. Unable to move Randolph, it was thought that the Knicks would play him only to keep his trade value high.

But a funny thing happened on the way to salary cap freedom, Randolph has begun to fit into D’Antoni’s system. He has had the third most minutes in preseason, and was second in points per game. Like Crawford, Zach was fond of caressing the ball and pounding it into the hardwood for 10 seconds before shooting it. I thought that and Randolph’s lackadaisical running of the floor would make him a poor fit in the Knicks’ new offense. However Randolph has adapted his play and his efficiency in preseason has improved (TS%: 57.2%, eFG%: 53.9%).

The Knicks are still looking to move Randolph because he doesn’t fit into their long term plans. A good season (or half season) from Zach would benefit the team not just on the court, but in front office negotiations as well. As long as Randolph gives the same effort throughout the season that he has in preseason, and avoids any off the court incidents the Knicks should be able to move him to a team looking for scoring and rebounding. Already there are rumors that some teams are interested in acquiring him, and the season hasn’t even begun yet.

Randolph and Marbury weren’t the only two Knicks expecting to change zip codes. David Lee’s name was often named in trade talks, giving WOW loving Knick fans summer nightmares. It wasn’t that Walsh wanted to move Lee, but rather other teams saw him as the Knicks most valuable player. Lee’s skill set allows him to fit on just about every NBA team and make a positive contribution, hence why so many teams are interested in acquiring him.

A fan favorite, Lee doesn’t have many weaknesses on the offensive end. He’s great at finishing around the hoop, and he’s been able to slowly expand his repertoire away from the hoop. While Lee doesn’t have the bevy of moves that Zach Randolph does, he’s able to drive to the hoop from the mid post and finish with a handful of different moves. Additionally his jumpshot has come a long way since his rookie year, as Lee hit 40.5% from outside (compare to Randolph’s 38.9%). Critics of Lee’s low volume scoring (9.4 FGA/36) should note that his turnovers are low (1.5 TO/36) and his shooting percentages are through the roof (career: TS%: 62.1%, eFG%: 57.5).

Unfortunately Lee’s inspired play doesn’t translate to the other end of the floor. His blocked shots (0.4 BLK/36) and steals (0.8 STL/36) are low, and his man to man defense is suspect. Lee’s only contribution to defense is his tenacious rebounding (11.1 REB/36). If Lee were above average in any defensive aspect, he’d be an All Star. His mediocre defense will keep him on the caliber of NBA starter, albeit a very good one.

Knicks 2009 Season Preview Part I

Just about every season preview begins with a wrap-up of the last year. I’m going to assume that if you’re here reading this, you don’t really need a review of last year. In fact, if you’re a Knick fan, you probably don’t want to review any recent history. So with that said let’s continue with what we might expect this year.

GUARD:
For 2009, the guard position should be the Knicks deepest. Duhon and Crawford will start, at least for now, while Marbury, Robinson, and Collins will provide ample depth. Even though D’Antoni says he likes to keep the rotation short, I envision a scenario where the top 4 will see a lot of playing time. In fact it’s entirely possible that all 5 will be in the rotation. Between D’Antoni’s predilection for going small and the fast pace the Knicks will play, it makes sense that they’ll need as many guards as possible.

Newly acquired Chris Duhon will supplement Marbury as the starting point guard this year. In Chicago Duhon was below average offensively but was an able defender in the backcourt, something the Knicks have been sorely lacking. He’s a capable long range shooter (35.6% 3P%), but is a poor finisher around the hoop. According to 82games Duhon had 24% of his “close” shots blocked, nearly double that of Stephon Marbury (13%). Think of Duhon as the NBA’s version of the game managing QB (Trent Dilfer). He’ll run the offense, take the open three, play half decent defense, but not score many points.

Some people mocked New York for giving Duhon an $11M dollar deal, including a few of Duhon’s former fans. The good news is that the deal is only 2 years, so the Knicks are looking at him as only a stopgap fix at point guard. New York isn’t going to contend for much over the length of his contract. The Duhon’s deal is a far cry from the 5 year (Jeffries & James) and 6 year (Curry & Crawford) contracts that were handed out by Isiah Thomas.

Jamal Crawford remains the incumbent at the shooting guard position. Many Knick fans still have hope that Jamal will shed his poor shot decision making ways and become a more efficient player. Under D’Antoni’s seven second offense, many assume that Crawford would blossom into a more efficient scorer. ESPN’s Daily Dime called Crawford the Knicks sleeper pick for fantasy basketball.

However it hasn’t turned out that way in preseason (TS%: 51.6, eFG%: 45.2, through 6 games), and Crawford may not flourish in this offense. Jamal’s strength is being able to create his own shot in the half court set, but D’Antoni’s offense uses movement to make shots for everyone, hence it diminishes Jamal’s contribution. Crawford, much like Zach Randolph, likes to hold ball and dictate the offense, and he has never been a great catch & shoot guy. His best season occurred under Larry Brown where he took 21% of his attempts from “inside” as opposed to only 14% last year.

Time will tell if Jamal will progress under D’Antoni, or if he’ll be the same frustrating off-balance shot taking player he’s been for the last 8 years. Considering the Knick coach doesn’t need his skill set on offense, and will expect more from Jamal on defense than the previous Knick coaches it’s possible that Crawford will see a reduction in minutes this year. Certainly Crawford isn’t likely to average the 39.9 minutes per game he played last year, and that will hurt his per game averages.

Preseason

Although the season is still a month away, the Knicks preseason is almost upon us. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind until the season begins.

The Bubble Boys

With 18 players on the roster, there are definitely some players on the bubble. Let’s assume that Chandler, Crawford, Curry, Duhon, Gallinari, Jeffries, Lee, Marbury, Randolph, Richardson, and Robinson make the team. Jeffries will start the season on the injured list, and let’s assume Gallinari joins him (or ends up in the D-League). That leaves 3 spots on the 12 man roster, and 1 spot on the innactive roster for Collins, Ewing Jr., Grunfeld, Houston, James, Roberson, and Rose. If my math is correct, three of those players are going to be cut.

Of the veterans Rose is likely to make the team outright, and reports have Jerome James playing a lot in practice. With Walsh’s comments about his dislike of buying out players, it’s likely the team will play James or force him to retire due to injury. Mardy Collins’ can defend but do little else, and with Duhon on the roster the Knicks already have a perimeter defender. Meanwhile Allan Houston is pretending he’s 34 years old again, but unfortunately he was out of the league at that point of his career.

Of the youngsters, Roberson’s preseason play earned himself a guaranteed contract. With the trade of Balkman and the injuries to Jeffries and Gallinari, the Knicks are thin at small forward. This could be good news for Ewing Jr. However both players are far from a guaranteed spot, and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if both were cut. Dan Grunfeld could probably beat his dad in a one on one game, but probably not anyone else on the roster.

With a new regime, it’s hard to guess what the Knicks will do. My guess is that Rose, James, Roberson, and Ewing Jr. make the cut. They can stash Roberson or Ewing Jr. in the D-League or leave them inactive. But if the Knicks wanted to go young, they might jettison James/Rose for Collins. Or maybe they see the team too offensively heavy at guard (Crawford, Marbury, Robinson) and not enough defense (Duhon) and keep Collins instead of Roberson. Or they might want a smaller lineup and leave Ewing off in lieu of one of the guards. Definitely something Knick fans want to keep track of during the preseason.

The Starting Lineup

It’s obvious that Jamal Crawford will be the starting SG, and you have to think that Quentin Richardson’s familiarity with D’Antoni’s system gives him the edge at SF over the inexperienced Wilson Chandler. At point guard, the team has signed Chris Duhon and coach D’Antoni has been playing him exclusively as the first team point guard. However the Knicks have refused to buy out Stephon Marbury, and the Knicks starting PG of the last four and a half years is still on the roster. For Marbury to get his starting job he just needs to impress his new coach and win over his teammates that he’s alienated over the last few seasons. And President Ahmadinejad might join B’nai B’rith International.

As for the frontcourt, most likely the Knicks will start Zach Randolph, even if only to keep his trade value high. D’Antoni was experimenting with Jared Jeffries at center before Jeffries’ broke his leg, so it looks as if that spot is open for competition.

Ever since Mike D’Antoni was announced as the Knicks’ head coach, pundits have wondered out loud how Eddy Curry would handle the physicality of an up-tempo offense. Curry has been unable to practice due to an illness so you wonder if he’ll get enough practice to be ready by the start of the season. Most likely the Knicks will turn to David Lee to play alongside Randolph.

The Offense

There’s no question that D’Antoni’s offense was successful in Phoenix. The Suns finished either first or second in offensive efficiency in the years he was coach. But the question remains how the 7 second offense will work in New York. D’Antoni won’t have a single All Star to work with, where he had three with the Suns (including a two time MVP). Additionally the Knicks’ offense hasn’t been very good. They’ve only been above average on offense twice since 2000. This makes sense because the Knick offense has been stuck in the 90s with isolations and post scoring emphasis. It’ll be particularly interesting to see how Randolph, Crawford, Curry, and even Marbury responds. The preseason might shed some light on how D’Antoni’s offense will work with average players.

The Youngsters

It seems that during Isiah’s tenure the Knicks youngsters has been stuck behind veterans. Just about every draftee over the last 5 years has had to struggle to earn playing time: David Lee, Wilson Chandler, Renaldo Balkman, Nate Robinson, Randolph Morris, Mardy Collins, Trevor Ariza, Mike Sweetney, and Frank Williams. And it’s not as if New York has had a winning team in that time span.

If the Knicks are rebuilding then it makes sense for the kids to get a lot of run, especially in preseason. Most likely David Lee will win a starting spot, so he should be getting plenty of playing time. I’ll be curious how much playing time Robinson, Chandler, and Collins get, and how they perform inside the Knick offense. It’ll also be nice to get a look at Roberson, Ewing, and Gallinari to gauge their strengths against stronger NBA competition. That is if all these players are on the roster (and in Gallinari’s case healthy).

The Schedule

Oct. 8 Toronto Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ONT 7:00 p.m.
Oct. 10 Philadelphia Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, PA 7:00 p.m.
Oct. 14 Philadelphia Madison Square Garden, New York, NY 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 17 Boston TD Banknorth Garden, Boston, MA 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 20 New Jersey IZOD Center, East Rutherford, NJ 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 Boston Madison Square Garden, New York, NY 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 24 New Jersey Madison Square Garden, New York, NY 7:30 p.m.

Breaking Down the Memphis Offer for Zach

According to multiple sources, the Memphis Grizzlies have put an offer on the table to the New York Knicks: Zach Randolph for Marko Jaric and Darko Milicic. From Memphis’ side, they would gain a scorer they sorely need since the departure of Pau Gasol. New York on the other hand would rid themselves of Randolph’s contract, and would be able to hand over the starting PF job to USA Select Team member David Lee. But how much does this help the Knicks in terms of future cap space?

In 2010, the year of multiple big free agents (LeBron, Wade, Bosh, etc.) Zach Randolph is scheduled to make $17.3M. Of the contracts they would be receiving, only Jaric would still be on the books for $7.6M. So the Knicks would shave off approximately $10M. According to Hoopshype, with Randolph the Knicks would be at about $45.5M. So one might assume saving $10M would bring them well below the cap which is currently set to $58.6M.

However Hoopshype doesn’t factor in players with team options, nor do they factor in players who get their contracts extended. If you add in Danilo Gallinari’s $3.3M, Wilson Chandler’s $2.1M, and this year’s #1 pick ($2M-$3M) the Knicks salaries creep up to $54M (with Randolph). Additionally the team may sign David Lee and Nate Robinson to contracts as opposed to letting them leave as unrestricted free agents. These two could well bring them in the $64M – $70M range.

So if the Knicks accept this trade now, they would be faced with a tough decision down the road. Option “A” would be to Let Lee and/or Nate walk in free agency without anything in return. This way they would definitely be in the range to grab a top free agent. But the team would be weaker and less palatable to free agents. Option “B” would be to accept the trade and resign Lee and/or Nate now in order to get them cheaper. Of course this would probably still put them over the top free agent limit in 2010. Option “C” would be to accept the trade and hope to trade one of the following players in the near future: Eddy Curry ($11.3M in 2010), Jared Jeffries ($6.9M), Marko Jaric ($7.6M), or Jamal Crawford ($10.1M). In this option, not being able to move one of these players could mean the loss of a free agent.

Donnie Walsh is also facing another dilemma. Is he getting enough in return for Zach Randolph? With Memphis’ cap situation, they could make the trade without offering Jaric. But obviously they gain fiscally by moving Marko’s contract. Walsh might be able to get the Grizzlies to accept an offer for just Darko or even to throw in something better (perhaps a future pick or one of their guards). If they hold onto Zach, the Knicks could get more in return from another team especially if his offensive numbers increase in D’Antoni’s offense. Additionally playoff bound teams may get more desperate to improve themselves as the season wears on.

If Walsh accepts this deal and lets Lee or Nate walk, he’d be getting little in return for these investments. However it could turn out that getting nothing for these players benefit the team the most if they are able to land a superstar player. That’s something New York has lacked since Ewing was in his prime in the mid-90s. Ironically getting the worse of these two deals, but improving the team greatly would be the opposite of Isiah Thomas’ modus operandi. Thomas was able to make every trade seem to be in his favor, but the team always ended up worse.

Personally I would take the deal, but I don’t think it’s a no-brainer. If he accepts, Walsh will have some tough decisions to make. In the present he’ll have added another player to an already crowded roster. There’s a reason no moves have been made yet, possibly to have leverage over a buyout of Marbury, Rose, and/or James. This trade could undermine any behind the scenes bargaining that’s already occurred. And in the future he’ll have to figure out what do if he can’t move a lesser Knick (Jaric/Jeffries) for a shorter contract to make cap space for Lee & Robinson.

[edited to reflect the #1 pick.]

Who Do You Want Gone ? Who Do You Want Here?

Who Do I Want Gone?

Eddy Curry. Bold choice I know. He is the primary symbol what we have become and how we got here. And he is a really bad basketball player, worse than Zach Randolph by a mile.

Who Do I Want Here the Most?

Chris Paul. He was the best player in the league this year. And I would like to see the best player in the league take the court in a Knicks jersey. Amazing that it’s never happened before.