With the New York Knicks failing miserably and Tyson Chandler shining back with the Dallas Mavericks, Phil Jackson’s decision to move on has started to draw heavy criticism.
Understanding when the best time to part with a core member of a once successful team is a hard decision to make. Many factors need to be weighed and there isn’t a sure outcome no matter how much of a slam dunk or a miss the move seems to look like at the time.
The 32-year-old Chandler (31 at time of the deal) was entering the final year of his contract. For various reasons it was hard to see the anchor of New York’s defense being with the team past this season. Jackson had a time frame consisting of the offseason going all the way to the trade deadline to try to get the highest value he could for his center, or risk losing him for nothing, barring a sign and trade.
The sign and trade aspect gets complicated with the unknown of the CBA — there are shorter contracts and more teams having money available to use during free agency. A team is typically only going to make an S&T deal if they’re financially restricted. There’s no reason to give up any sort of an asset for a player they can acquire for just money.
For this season there’s no doubt the Chandler deal looks like a disaster, but that’s not the reason the trade was completed. A more hurtful outcome for the franchise would have been losing Tyson for nothing like the Lakers did with Pau Gasol or Miami did with LeBron James.
Jose Calderon is a NBA level rotation player, on a reasonable $7-plus million contract that runs through 2016-2017. If Jackson feels Calderon ends up being a hindrance to what he’s trying to do he can always be traded at some point.
Samuel Dalembert was a filler and has no long-term harm.
Shane Larkin was a shot at a young guard and will have no impact going forward if they decide to part ways this summer. If the two sides decide to come together on a deal hopefully that means he’s proven to be a quality, two-way guard off the bench. He’s shown flashes of this, but there’s still a long way to come to this determination.
You also have two complete unknowns in Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. If one of them ends up as an NBA rotation player you take it and run.
The difference between this deal and many of the past was not killing off future flexibility despite the addition of Calderon’s guaranteed salary. New York still has plenty of cap space to maximize this summer in a potential variety of ways.
There’s always the argument of opportunity cost. The question has been raised should have Jackson waited to try and raise Chandler’s value since he was coming off a down season?
This option is far from a no-brainer and would have come with significant risk.
In 2013-2014 Chandler only played in 55 games. In 2012-2013 Chandler participated in 66 games. During 13-14 he hurt himself in the fourth game of the season. In 12-13 his body became so broken down by the end of the year he was a shell of himself when New York needed him most in the playoffs.
If New York decided to hold onto Tyson and he gets hurt before the trade deadline they end up losing him for nothing. Some will argue this was a risk worth taking, but Jackson’s decision to play it safe was a logical move.
The other positive from this deal is turning out to be an unintended consequence. Despite what looked like a middling roster, because of being in the Eastern Conference, it was at least thought the Knicks could be somewhat respectable topping out in the low 40s to high 30s or at worst winning in the low 30s.
This is not what’s happened and New York is in prime position to get a top three pick in a draft littered with talented big men.
Intentional or unintentional the Knicks are headed down a path to get a building block they desperately need. If they kept Chandler and he played at a reasonably decent level there’s not a chance New York is in this position.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t choose to be bad last year, but it ended up being a positive for them. Milwaukee was able to land Jabari Parker with the second pick and Cleveland turned the top selection into Kevin Love.
Maybe for once the Knicks have gotten some luck and they did something brilliant completely by accident.