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Who Won What?!? The Knicks, Anthony, and all those Nuggets…

January 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Chris Bernucca of Sheridan Hoops postulated in an article yesterday that if the Knicks lost last night’s affair against Denver, it might be coach Mike D’Antoni’s last game at the helm of the listing ship SS Knickerbocker. Much like the Italian captain who this week spurned the nobility of captain going down with his vessel and instead leapt straight into the nearest life raft, getting off the boat right now might just be opportune.

After all, the highly lauded Knicks are 6-9, and 9th in the middling Eastern Conference. As a point of contrast, their opponent last night, the Denver Nuggets are 12-5 and 2nd in the Western Conference. This only really matters in that the Nuggets seem to have a roster mostly made up of D’Antoni’s castaways: Danilo Gallinari, Tomofey Mozgov, Corey Brewer, and Al Harrinton all suited up for the Nuggets last night, and each in turn suited up for the Knicks. Well, actually that’s not entirely true, Brewer was acquired by the Knicks as part of the Den-NY-Minn. Anthony trade, but they thought he wasn’t even worth a roster spot and just waved him. He signed with the eventual champs in Dallas.

And this is the problem for the Knicks as they look to turn around their season, they’re a misshapen roster lacking the requisite parts  – cough guards cough – to win games in the NBA. And while D’Antoni’s certainly not helping matters, can the blame for the roster really be laid at his feet? In acquiring Anthony, the Knicks swung for the fences and seemingly came up lame. Since the trade New York’s 20-24, the Nuggets are 30-12, that probably has something to do with coaching, but it also has something to do with roster construction and the value placed on the star player.

Last night Carmelo Anthony scored a very respectable 25 points. Of course, he required 30 shots to get those 25, and he only made it to the line 6 times. His counterpart scored 37 points (in two overtimes), on 19 shots. With 20 – yes, TWENTY – attempts from the charity stripe. Galinari took bold advantage of the free shots too, converting 18 of them. Now, it’s one game, and Carmelo has done a lot for the Knicks, but remind me which player was the premier piece of that trade?

Conventional NBA wisdom says that the team that acquires the best player in a trade won that trade, but in the case of that deal eleven months ago, I’m not so sure. I think the writing’s pretty clearly on the wall, the New York Knicks lost the Carmelo Anthony trade. Acquiring Anthony cost the Knicks cap room, it cost them flexibility, and it cost them four players. It also, seemingly, will cost them Mike D’Antoni (which most knicks fans would probably chalk up as a win). When this trade was made, I listed the Knicks as both winners and losers of the deal, writing,

On its face, this is a slam dunk win for the Knicks, but it also has the hollow ring of a flashy deal that garners BIG headlines but doesn’t actually make the team appreciably better.

It hasn’t made New York better, but it has improved the Nuggets. Armed with a roster of ex-pat Knicks, the Nuggets sit in the NBA’s penthouse; the perfect place to watch the SS Knickerbocker list and sink…

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Boom goes the Dynamite… Deron Williams to the Nets

February 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Sitting around this morning, watching Curling, and waiting to begin my four day vacation I was just thinking to myself… Maybe I should write a blog before I leave, but about what?

Then… Boom Goes the Dynamite:

Sources: Nets Trade for Jazz All-Star Williams

And just like that… the landscape of the NBA gets a little more interesting.  If this is true – and I trust Marc Stein and Chad Ford implicitly – then everything I wrote about Mikhail Prokhorov yesterday I take back.  Williams isn’t LeBron James, but he’s better than Carmelo Anthony.  This would be a massive pick up and a huge victory for the Nets.

Now, they will have to re-sign him, but they have a whole year for the Big Russian to convince him to be the face of the franchise in Brooklyn and when Deron’s a free agent, it will be the same summer that they plan to move.

It’s ironic, because the Knicks and Nets spent the better part of seven months in a very protracted, public pursuit of Anthony and the Williams deal came together in about half a second.  Whatever you think about the Knicks’ Anthony deal – and I wrote about 1400 words about it yesterday – New Jersey went from Losers yesterday to big, BIG winners today.

Further, I think this deal actually reinforces the the Loser label for the Knicks that I suggested yesterday.  Given the choice between the two players, Williams is the superior player and he’s a better fit for Mike D’Antoni’s system and to pair with Amare Stoudemire.  If the Knicks hadn’t lost site of the bigger picture in their (Isiah driven?) pursuit of Anthony, then perhaps this morning they’d be trumping New Jersey’s acquisition of Anthony, by announcing their own Williams deal.  Instead, they paid more for the inferior player, yeah!

For Utah, this is a bit of a mixed bag.  Their season was slipping away and their roster seemed further from contention than it’d been in the past couple years.  They knew that next year they were probably looking at a season of trade speculation just like the one that lingered over Denver this year.  So, by making this deal today, they avoided that circus and they probably received the best package that would have been available.  Still, without Sloan and now without Williams, it’s hard to see how the future for the Jazz is anything but bleak.  As I wrote yesterday, Favours has some promise, but he’s a long way away from being a great player.  Devin Harris is a former All-Star, but he’s also a guy who last year captained a 12 win team.  Forgive me if I think he’s more phenomenal 6th man than team leader.  And while draft picks are great, this year’s draft is supposed to be weak and who knows what next year’s Golden State pick (top seven protected) will yield.  So, for Jazz fans, this is turning into a particularly bleak winter.  For 23 years they have known that every season they would have a chance to be good, if not very good, but now?

Finally, there’s Williams himself.  What a dramatic turn.  In the span of three weeks, he’s gone from beloved Utah icon to a man who will hear nothing but boos in the Beehive State for the rest of his career.  In the first game post Sloan, there were a smattering of boos, as the fans blamed Williams for the great coach’s sudden retirement.  Those sentiments will only be solidified by his trade.

As Bill Simmons tweeted about an hour after the news broke,

“Hey Deron Williams – you just destroyed pro basketball in Utah, what are you doing next?” “I’m going to Disney World!”

That image is going to be hard to escape, but if Deron takes the Nets to the playoffs next year and then becomes the face of the franchise in Brooklyn, it’s hard to see how he’ll care about being hated by a million and a half million people in Salt Lake City.

Winners and Losers of the Carmelo Siege…

February 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Finally, the endless siege is over.  The poor, deprived hostages in Denver can return to their normal lives, a little scared, a little worse for wear, but ultimately capable of a full recovery.  The rest of us, held hostage waiting for a resolution, can turn our attentions to other teams, other players, and other potential trades.  But first, before their can be healing, their must be closure, which means it’s time to proclaim some winners, deride some losers, and just generally come to understand what the heck happened over these last 7,894 days.

Winner – New York Knicks

The NBA is a fairly straight forward league.  If you have one of the five or six best players in basketball, you can win a championship.  If you don’t, you can’t.  It’s why every year there are five or six teams in contention and then a bunch of also rans in the middle fighting for some room to dance.  In my lifetime (a shade or two over 30 years), there has been only one exception to this rule: the 2004 Detroit Pistons.  Yes, they lacked a top five talent, but they probably had four guys in the top twenty and their fifth might have been top forty.  Plus, frankly, they only won because the Lakers allowed the Shaq-Kobe turmoil boil over.  So, yes, that’s the exception, but it’s the only one and it took some pretty exceptional circumstances.

Yes, the Knicks are a winner, because of the 12 players being exchanged in this trade, only one is the type of talent that could propel a team to a championship.  And that man, landed with the Knickerbockers.

Loser – New York Knicks

On the other hand, this deal cost the Knicks two starters (Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari), six million dollars cold hard cash, four draft picks (three picks and Anthony Randolph), and a boatload of flotsam in salaries.  The swap from Felton to Billups is a wash, but Billups is eight years older and significantly more expensive.  The roster outside Carmelo, Amare, and Billups makes the Miami Heat look like the 86 Celtics, and despite what everyone is salivating about, this deal basically eradicates any chance the Knicks had of acquiring Deron Williams, Chris Paul, or Dwight Howard.

Still, the Knicks do have that scintillating Carmelo-Amare front court.  Of course, even within that there are questions.  How will those two co-exist?  Are either of them really capable of leading a team to the promised land?  Is Amare going to resent being a second banana?  Can the Knicks, with Mike D’Antoni as coach and Carmelo-Amare as their core, play enough defense to topple the Heat, Celtics or Bulls?

On its face, this is a slam dunk win for the Knicks, but it also has the hollow ring of a flashy deal that garners BIG headlines but doesn’t actually make the team appreciably better.  Which brings me to the real reason this trade seems like a loser for the Knicks…

Winner – Isiah Thomas

With word flooding the inter-web that the disgraced former Knicks GM was at the forefront of this trade, Knicks fans had better be terrified, I mean Return of Chucky scared.  Whether or not you like the Carmelo deal, if it was brokered in any fashion by Thomas, that is a harbinger of doom for the franchise.  That will ensure that when his contract expires at seasons end, Donnie Walsh will resign and Thomas, the man who traded away half the franchise for such star talents as Eddy Curry, Steve Francis, and Jalen Rose will be walking back through the MSG door.  Any guesses how that one will work out?

Loser – Donnie Walsh

Whether or not Thomas was involved in this deal, it’s clear that Walsh was overruled.  That his strategy of waiting out the season to see what happens was deemed flawed and with it, Donnie quite possibly irrelevant.  Frankly, I’m not sure that his strategy was wrong.  Basically, Walsh was calling Anthony’s bluff:  That Carmelo truly wanted to play for the Knicks and that he intended to sign there no matter what.  Why give up three or four future rotation players to get a player you were going to acquire anyhow?  What made Walsh’s strategy sage, was the probability the even if Carmelo took the sure money with Denver (or New Jersey), Paul, Williams, and Howard weren’t just fallback options, but superior options.  Each pairs better with Stoudemire and each is more likely to lead his team to a title.  While it would have required another year of waiting, the Knicks would have been stronger for the deferment.

Winner – Denver Nuggets

Look, did they want to lose Anthony?  No, not really.  But the writing wasn’t just on the wall, it was the wall.  The Nuggets’ only hope of keeping Anthony would have been to hold on to him into the Summer and then push for a Franchise Tag in the labor negotiations.  Of course, then they’d have had to live with a cranky, pouting Anthony.  Considering that when James left Cleveland and Bosh Toronto, all those teams were left with was a giant (useless) trade exception and a couple crappy first round picks,* Denver worked New York like a champion boxer; using the interest of New Jersey and the possibility of keeping Carmelo to extract an extremely favorable package from the Knicks.  Are they better today than they were yesterday?  No, but they’re certainly better off than Cleveland and Toronto.

*Incidentally, we need to stop talking about 1st Round picks as though they are all the same thing.  The picks that Miami gave up for Bosh and James will never be higher than 28th.  Mostly they’ll probably be 30th.  This isn’t the same thing as getting a lottery pick.  And getting a lottery pick at 8-14 isn’t the same thing as getting a pick in the 5-7 range, which isn’t the same as a top 4 pick.  Know what I’m saying?

Loser – Mikhail Prokhorov and the New Jersey Nets

When he came into the league, the Big Russian arrived with a bang, toting hot women, private jets, and a swashbucklers mentality.  Now, a year later, he’s swung and missed on LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Amare, and Carmelo.  Maybe it’s not his fault, maybe it’s the stench of Jersey.  Heck, maybe his – and his team’s – fortunes will improve when they relocate to Brooklyn, but right now you have an underachieving center who forgot how to rebound; you have a mercurial point guard who isn’t much of a passer; you have a young power forward who has promise, but also is averaging 6.3 points and 5.3 rebounds, and you have a roster full of rejects you overpaid after being spurned by James.  So, the Russian Mark Cuban Prokhorov is not.

Winner – Phoenix Suns(maybe?)

Right now, with the stretch run about to begin, fifth through tenth in the West is separated by a measly four games>  The Suns sit at the bottom of that pack but there is cause for hope.  Directly ahead of the Suns are the Memphis Grizzlies, who just lost their best player for a month.  Ahead of them are the Utah Jazz, who after the shocking resignation of some coach who wasn’t particularly well known are in free-fall.  Above them are the Nuggets who just acquired Timofey Mozgov.  Above them are the New Orleans Hornets, whose best player acutally only has one knee.  And, finally, above them and sitting fifth are the TrailBlazers, who despite churning out win after win after win, are actually a travelling MASH unit.

The Suns have played better lately, going 12 and 6 to close out the break.  If they could get anything, ANYTHING, out of the corpse that used to be Vince Carter, then they could make a serious push, not just to the playoffs, but to a top six seed (the top four are beyond their reach).  Considering where things looked on the morning that they pulled off the Jason Richardson-Hedo Turkoglu trade, this is a surpirsingly rosy outlook.

Loser – Steve Nash

The Suns still aren’t title contenders (despite what I tell myself at night), but this trade ensures that whatever slim chance there was of the Suns moving Nash to a title contender has evaporated.  There’s no reason to trade him when you have a realistic shot at making the playoffs.  Even if your chances of surviving to the second round are pretty slim.

Isiah Thomas, the Master Narcissist…

November 5, 2010 Leave a comment

While drinking my Cup of Joe this morning, I almost showered my darling wife in coffee when I came across Ian O’Connor’s ESPNNewYork.com article, Exiled Isiah Itching for an Encore.  Now, leaving aside the fact that my wife was not at all pleased to have her shower with cream, lets look at some of the more salient points of this piece for insight into the state of Thomas:

Exiled in Miami, haunted by his proximity to LeBron James, Thomas embraces his articles of blind faith like one would a baby in a storm

Huh?  Haunted by his proximity to LeBron James?  What?!?  Why?!?

Isiah believes James (and perhaps Dwyane Wade) would be starting for the New York Knicks if Isiah had remained president of the team.

Really?  REALLY?  Wow.  You have to love the narcissism of Thomas.  I think that Pat Riley deserves credit for reeling in the three big fish to the Heat, but really his greatest work this summer was how he assembled a team around those three.  Do you actually think that LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were going anywhere other than Miami?  This wasn’t about Pat Riley (although he surely helped), it was about the three of them wanting to play together in South Beach.  What does Isiah think his presence would have meant?  Would he have made it a sunny 85 degrees all winter long in New York?  Would he have turned the Hudson turquoise?  Would he have convinced all the women in suits walking down fifth avenue to wear bikinis instead?  Well, actually given his history he might have tried that last one (too low?).

Even if I’m wrong, even if the location was only a minor factor in their decision and the Big Three could have been swayed somewhere else, whose presence is getting the attention of LeBron and Wade:  Is it Pat Riley and his 5 NBA titles, with his 17 seasons of 50 or more wins (including 7 above 60)?  Or would it have been Thomas with his spotty record in Toronto, his destruction of the CBA, his five coaching seasons in which he compiled a .456 winning percentage, and his lost sexual harassment suit?  Seriously Isiah?  Seriously?

Speaking of that sexual harrasement suit, O’Connor writes,

The sexual harassment trial amounted to the final, fatal hack. “I think if you take away that trial,” Thomas said, “I’m still there, we make the playoffs a couple of times … and I don’t know if Miami has LeBron or Wade. We may have had LeBron and Wade.”

This paragraph shows just how deeply Thomas doesn’t get it.  Not only is he prattling on about how they’d have gotten LeBron and Wade, but he blames the trial for his undoing in New York, not realising that the whole point of the trial was… finding him culpable of sexually harassing Anucha Browne Sanders.  That’s not the trial’s fault Isiah, that’s YOUR fault.  That’s why your boss had to pay Sanders 11 million.

Instead of admitting guilt, or accepting any form of culpability, Thomas continues to deflect,

“If the things that she alleges did happen in her daily working environment, I have great sympathy for her. If those things happened in her daily working environment, then yes, she is a victim, and I do have great compassion for her.

Unfortunately Isiah, that’s not how this works.  You were found guilty, which makes her the victim.  Even if you don’t believe it, the best thing you can do at this point is to be penitent.  Instead of saying, “if these things happened…”  Say, “I am so sorry for everything that happened to Anucha.  Nobody deserves to experience what she went through and I am sorry.”  Whether you believe she suffered or not isn’t relevant.  At least not publicly.  If you truly believe yourself innocent in the affair, then that’s fine, but publicly be repentant, and show sorrow for what she suffered.  In this case, it isn’t about your experiences, it’s about hers, but Isiah continues his vain outlook,

“My wife and kids and I, we were persecuted like I’ve never seen anywhere in sports. [The criticism] just got so mean and … as a family we were just hanging by a thread every single day. We were just hanging by a thread and just trying to hunker down and weather the storm. My mother was dying at the time, and it was the most awful time in my life. We were going through hell.”

I imagine it was hell for your wife and kids and obviously the passing of your mother is tragic, but again (with the exception of his mother’s passing) that’s a hell perpetrated by Thomas, not Sanders, not the trial, not the media in New York.  Isiah himself.

Of course, Isiah’s neurosis run deeper than just the trial.  On the topic of how talented the Knicks’ roster was,

But there were 24 All-Stars last year,” he said, “and I left New York with two of them, David Lee and Zach Randolph. Jamal Crawford became a sixth man of the year.

No Isiah, you didn’t leave the Knicks with two future all stars and a sixth man award winner, you left them with disparate pieces that did not work together.  Randolph had averaged almost 20 points and ten rebounds a game during in his six years in Portland, everyone knew he could score, but he couldn’t stop a donut, and together with Lee all you had was too much of the same thing.  On top of which, while Crawford did have a nice year last season, he remains a fundamentally flawed player who still jacks up too many shots, doesn’t defend, and doesn’t get IT.  In the Basketball Bible, Bill Simmons credits Thomas with giving him the secret to NBA success, but none of the primary guys acquired by Thomas (Stephon Marbury, Vin Baker, Crawford, Eddy Curry, Jerome James, Jalen Rose, Steve Francis, Randolph) were guys who understood the “secret” of how to win a title in the NBA.  Not a single one, got IT.

Thomas has gotten some credit for his talent evaluation and his draft record is good.  Obviously his best pick was David Lee with the 30th pick in the 2005 draft.  Lee’s a scoring machine and he’s a good rebounder, so even though his defense is weak, he was superb value at 30th.  There were other successes (for instance, in his first draft with the Knicks Thomas plucked Trever Ariza with the 43rd pick), but lets not make it out like he was the modern day Red Auerbach or anything.  In 2005 with his first pick, Thomas took Channing Frye 8th; Frye has been a solid pro, but since I tore him apart last week and since Andrew Bynum was picked two spots later, well… The year after that he took Renaldo Blackman 20th, right before the Suns took Rajon Rondo.  Wilson Chandler and Nate Robinson are fine, but they aren’t exactly world changing talents.

What about the picks he traded away?  Because there was Thomas’ greatest crime to the New York Knickerbocker franchise.  In the Eddy Curry deal he sent away the picks that became Joakim Noah and LaMarcus Aldridge.  Wow, how good might the Knicks have been with that front line?  And, of course, there’s the possible number one pick that terrorized Knicks fans all of last year, as Utah looked like it might really benefit from Isiah even after he’d gone (instead they ended up with just the 9th pick).  So, yeah he can identify talent, but he still missed on draft picks, and he had no idea of how to put the pieces together and no idea about how to protect assets.

Of course, Thomas blamed Larry Brown for trading Ariza and he blamed James Dolan for hiring Brown.  As for the Curry trade, in a frightening sign, he still thinks that was a good idea,

“There was a method behind the madness,” Thomas said. He was confident Curry would opt out in 2010 to clear the necessary space for a fellow client of Leon Rose, name of LeBron James… “They were just all friendly, and they were all on the AAU circuit,” Thomas said.

Really, he was confident that Curry would opt out?  But he also thought that Curry and James being AAU buddies would help?  So which was it Isiah?  Were you confident Curry would lure LeBron?  Or were you confident he’d opt out?  Because nobody else was, Curry’s contract was lampooned as a bad deal the second it was signed, and how close were Curry and LeBron as AAU friends considering that when Curry was a high school senior LeBron was in grade nine?  So, looking back now, it’s easy to say that you planned to bring LeBron to the Knicks, but it’s hard to see how the attrocious Curry deal helped you accomplish that mission.

Which brings me to my final point, how exactly was Isiah going to acquire LeBron?  He showed NO ability to manage the salary cap, acquiring one overwhelming, onerous contract after another.  The only way he was able to add talent was by trading expiring deals for other team’s poisonous contracts.

Hired as president of the Knicks in December of 2003, Thomas said he targeted James as the centerpiece of a future title winner in New York “from the first day he got in the league, as soon as I got the job.”

The notion that he identified LeBron back then as a piece that would be great for the Knicks is wonderful.  Likewise, when George Steinbrenner passed away, I decided that it would be a good idea if I bought the Yankees.  All I need is a billion dollars and a dream.  Unfortunately, whether or not Isiah identified LeBron as the piece he needed to win a title in New York, in reality you need more than a dream to make something happen.

Thomas guessed James would ultimately sign an extension with Cleveland that would keep him with the Cavaliers through 2010, but went about acquiring players he thought would appeal to LeBron, anyway.

Really?  He identified that James would sign a short extension with the Cavs instead of the full one?  A style of extension that until James, Wade and Bosh signed theirs nobody had done?  Really?!?  Sure you did there slugger.  I believe you, thousands wouldn’t, but I do*

*Too bad for Knicks fans, the only other person who believes Thomas is Knicks owner James Dolan…

NBA What Ifs…

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, a week into the season, the NBA is chugging along without any great surprises.  After their opening night stinker, the Heat have looked good, the Lakers are destroying people, and the Suns couldn’t defend a chair.  So, there’s not much really to talk about, except… some what ifs!

1) What if the Miami Heat had drafted OJ Mayo instead of Michael Beasley with the number 2 overal pick in the 2007 draft.

This summer the Miami Heat gave away the number two pick in the 2007 draft and 3 million in cash for a 2011 second round pick.  Think about that for a second, the Heat selected a player two years ago with the second pick who was so irrelevant to their future that they paid Minnesota to take him.  Pat Riley is going to win executive of the year for this season and deservedly so, but that’s a colossal waste of a high pick.  What makes it particularly galling, is that Riley knew it was a bad pick at the time.  He did everything he could to trade out of that pick and kept threatening to pick OJ Mayo… So, what if he had picked Mayo?  At the time, the problem with Mayo for the Heat, was that he was too similar to Dwayne Wade (albeit nowhere near as good), now however that’s exactly the player the Heat need.  With LeBron James acting as the de-facto point guard, the Heat don’t need a traditional point guard, they need someone who can defend and shoot.  Carlos Arroyo has been manning the position, but… come on.  Mayo’s a good defender and a great shooter.  In his two years in the league he has comfortably averaged 18 points a game on 45% shooting from the floor, with 38% three point shooting.  Of course, by dumping Beasley’s contract, the Heat were able to squeeze out enough money to offer Mike Miller his deal, but a) with Mayo they wouldn’t have needed him and b) if they really still wanted the long haired sharp shooter, I’m sure they could have found a way to make it work.  Now, the Heat are going to win 64+ games anyhow, so at some point it’s just an embarrassment of riches, but Mayo is exactly the kind of guard that the Heat want starting next to Wade and James.

2) What if the Knicks had not traded Jared Jeffries and Jordan Hill to the Rockets last February?

Desperate to get Jeffries contract off their books in hopes of landing LeBron, the Knicks gave Hill (meh), money, and draft picks in 2011 (swap) and 2012 for Tracy McGrady.  The move did allow them to clear enough salary cap space to grab a second max free agent, but when Joe Johnson re-upped with Atlanta, Bosh (made irrelevant by Amare’s signing) and Wade joined in Miami, all the Knicks’ eggs were in the James basket… We all know how that ended and for all their efforts, the Knicks ended up Raymond Felton as their second banana…  Making matters worse, Hill and those picks are exactly what the Knicks need as they desperately pursue Carmelo Anthony.  If the Knicks had not made that deal, then they could offer up a package to Denver that involved their 2012 pick, Jeffries and Curry’s expiring deal (which would allow Denver to shed a onerous contract along with Carmelo) and a couple of young prospects out of A. Randolph, J. Hill, D. Gallinari, and K. Azubuike.  At this point, when Denver knows that Carmelo’s gone and nobody really wants to offer them much for him, that looks like enough to bring him to MSG (where he might need a hard hat, but that’s another topic for another day…).  Instead, the Knicks will have to hope that the Nuggets get desperate as the trade deadline approaches, because as it stands they don’t have the pieces to pull a Carmelo trade off.

3) What if the Zombie Sonics had drafted Joakim Noah and Steph Curry?

I sort of touched on this in my NBA Preview blurb on the Zombies, but I think I’m going to elaborate a little more and toss Curry in as well.  As I said then, I think that Sam Presti is easily one of the five best GMs in basketball, but there are two glaring examples of mistakes he made in the draft, that are holding back what could be a dominant franchise.  First, in 2007 he took Jeff Green fifth instead of Noah.  As I said two weeks ago, Green’s a nice player, but Noah’s the sort of hustle, rebounding, defense, unselfish player that helps teams win championships.  People are always talking about the Scottie Pippen to somebody’s Jordan, well Noah’s would have been the Dennis Rodman to Kevin Durant’s Jordan.  Only, you know, without the wedding dress, tattoos, and tantrums.

On top of that, the Zombies could have picked Steph Curry to pair in the backcourt with Russell Westbrook.  Look, I think it’s too early to throw James Harden under the bus, he’s only 21 and may still develop into a solid NBA player, but looking at him right now his ceiling seems more dependable rotation player than perennial all star.  Curry on the other hand is the sort of incredibly gifted, incredibly intelligent player who would pair perfectly with both Durant and Westbrook.  As John Hollinger points out in today’s PER Diem (Insider, sorry), the Thunder have underperformed people’s expectations this season in large part because nobody besides Durant can shoot.  Curry came out of the womb knocking down threes and he would help cure what ails the Zombies.  I know that Russell likes being a point guard and that’s fine, because with him, Curry would just slide into being the shooting guard (and what’s in a name anyway?); a position from which he would bomb threes hand out dimes, and make opponents pay for doubling Durant.  It would be awesome to behold and they’re all so young that it would just be a really fun decade of hoops in Seattle (what, if I’m changing their picks, I’m dam sure changing Howard Schultz selling them to an ownership group that was obviously moving them to Oklahoma.  Shame on you Howard, shame…).

The Zombies’ lineup (or, in this case, should I say the Sonics’ lineup) would be:

PG – R. Westbrook

SG – S. Curry

SF – K. Durant

PF – N. Collison

C – J. Noah

Bench: N. Krstic, S. Ibaka, T. Sefolosha, D. Cook, E. Maynor, C. Aldrich

Solid.  Too bad Presti missed out on those picks (and Shultz sold to Bennet and company), because that is a squad I really would have enjoyed watching…

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly Knickerbocker style…

June 8, 2010 Leave a comment

So, we are now 22 days from the culmination of a two year plan to revive the New York Knicks. I could wax poetically about how terrible the past decade has been for Knick fans, but really… if you don’t know how much s**t they’ve had to deal with, then I’d rather not be the one to subject you to it. Lets just say that things at MSG have been so bad for so long, that you’d think that BP was involved in the cleanup. Now however, is the breaking point. You might even think of it as Groundhog day for the Knicks’ franchise.

If James Dolan crawls out of his little cave and sees his shadow, then surely the Knicks are in for another long, cold, nasty winter. However, if Dolan comes out and sees LeBron James putting on a Knicks uniform at a packed press conference with 2000 flash bulbs popping like champagne corks, well, then Knickerbocker fans might actually be in line for a (seemingly) endless summer.

As we all know, for a team that wasn’t playing, the Knicks had a superb second round of the playoffs. The Celtics upset of the Cavs increased the likelihood that LeBron James might leave Cleveland. Some, like this short, bald scribe, would argue that it opened the door and stamped his passport, but others caution that while that might have been James’ initial reaction, cooler heads will prevail. Still, for the Knicks’ hopes, the Celtics win was the best news they’ve had since Mike D’Antoni chose New York over Chicago.

It’s clear that for NY, this summer is all about the King. If they get James to join them in the Big Apple, then these two excruciating years will just be a hazy memory. If however he chooses to play elsewhere, well then things could get real ugly, real fast. In fact I would argue that this summer is actually kind of a spaghetti western for the Knicks. It could be good, it could be bad, and it could be ugly. Lets work backwards, just because Knick fans deserve to end on a high note, even if it is hypothetical.

The Ugly:

So, assume that LeBron returns to Cleveland. Then assume that Stoudemire re-ups with Phoenix, while Joe Johnson takes the Clippers money. Finally, assume that Bosh takes Chicago’s olive branch and that Carlos Boozer decides to join forces with Wade in Miami. All plausible yes? Good. Now, what are the Knicks going to do? They can’t go into next year with only four guys. They can’t go into next year with a roster that looks like an Olsen twin. They need to flesh it out. They need bodies and more importantly, after selling their fans on this waiting for 2010 plan, they need names.

Enter the Washington Wizards. The maligned capital franchise just had its name selected by the lottery Gods to be the future home of John Wall. The worst thing that the Wolves could do for Wall – the Clipper move if you will – would be to pair him with Gilbert Arenas. The Wiz are going to say publicly that they believe that Wall and the Gunslinger can co-exist in the backcourt. And of course on paper they can, but even Ernie Grunfeld isn’t stupid enough to believe that Arenas will be a good tutor to Wall. So, the Wizards will try to move mountains if it allows them to move Arenas.

That of course makes for a Jesse James’ style marriage. There’s some tattoos, some guns, strippers, an epic party or two, and a whole lot of dysfunction. It could be as simple as Toney Douglas and a second round pick. BANG! Just like that Gilbert’s a Knick.

Of course, the Knicks would not be finished there. They could also call the Sixers and say, ok, you want to clear Elton Brand off your cap, well then we’ll need Andre Igoudala. We’ll give you Wilson Chandler and Eddy Curry’s expiring deal. Done. The Sixers have Evan Turner or Derrick Favours coming in. They have Jrue Holiday developing. They need to get rid of Brand and that number two pick should have made Iggy disposable. If it takes him to clear off Brand, then seal the deal.

And, just because Knick fans sold their soul to the devil during the NBA’s first draft lottery, Donnie Walsh will decide that he saw something in Jermaine O’Neal that makes him think the former MVP candidate, and a player who was Walsh’s star in Indiana, might have something left in the tank – never mind that O’Neal actually died in the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills five years ago, but has been carried around like Bernie Lomax ever since.

Add in some cheap pieces around the fringe and suddenly the Knicks’ roster looks like this…

PG – G. Arenas, S. Rodriguez,
SG – A. Igoudala, B. Walker, J. Giddens
SF – D. Gallinari, T. Thomas
PF – E. Brand, C. Wilcox, S. Marks
C – J. O’Neal, T. Battie

I know, I know, it’s nausea inducing. You say to yourself there’s no way that that’s possible, but hey, “Gilbert a Knick” is a very real, very scary proposition. It’s like them making an A-Team movie. You know it’s a terrible idea, they know it’s a terrible idea, but somewhere along the way you both talk yourselves into it and next thing you know, they’ve made the movie and you’ve bought advance tickets online. Not that I’m saying I’ve bought advance tickets online or anything, just that, uhmmm… ahhh… lets move on.

The Wiz need to get rid of Gilbert, the Knicks need something to show for all of this waiting and seeing. It’s long been my favorite style of management, “first we show up, then we see what happens.” Of course, if “what happens” is a big pile of poop in a shoe, then that’s just plain ugly…

The Bad:

There are other scenarios for the Knicks that aren’t so Cormac McCarthy post-apocalyptic, but still leave you with that sharing an elevator with someone who just farted feeling. What about if LeBron and Bosh join forces in Chicago, Wade and Stoudemire in Miami, but the Knicks walk away from the NBA game of free agent musical chairs with Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer. How would that sit for you?

Both are good players. Together they have six allstar appearances, seven seasons of averaging better than 20 points per game and last year they combined to average 40.8 points and 15.8 rebounds, but if you believe that a core of Johnson and Boozer is getting you past the second round, well, I’ve got an amazing waterfront investment for you in the Gulf Coast.

For that reason, I wouldn’t pay either max money, but I think there are enough teams out there with cash this offseason that both will eventually receive the max. All it takes is the big four free agents (LeBron, Wade, Bosh, and Amare)* to sign elsewhere and then Johnson to get a max offer from the Timberwovles or the Clippers, or Sacramento. Everybody always talks about winning, but when the chips fall, they always take the money. All it takes is one drunken David Kahn phone call and suddenly Johnson’s “worth” 16 million. So, forget about the Knicks adding Johnson, Boozer, and someone like Rudy Gay on 11 or 12 million per year deals. It just isn’t happening. (likewise, the so-called free agent summit is irrelevant, because all those guys aren’t taking 8 million per year to band together like the Justice League).

Now, with a core of Gay and Boozer, the Knicks could still use that Curry-expiring chip to fill in pieces around the fringes. They could make Detroit an offer that took Rip Hamilton and Charlie Villanueva off the Pistons’ hands for Curry’s expiring, which would save Detroit bucket loads of cash and allow them to escape from two questionable moves. With a couple other minor signings, the Knicks roster looks thus:

PG – R. Felton, T. Douglas, S. Rodriguez
SG – R. Hamilton, B. Walker
SF – J. Johnson, D. Gallinari, W. Chandler
PF – C. Boozer, C. Villanueva
C – Mystery Center 1, J. Howard

Sure, the Johnson and Boozer led Knicks are making the playoffs, they might even win a round, but they are soft, they lack leadership, and if they don’t score 110 then they’re almost certainly losing. The chances of them winning a title are about the same as the chances of me finally getting that growth spurt I’ve been hoping for. It’s not ugly, but it’s sure as heck not good…

*(I don’t list Dirk Nowitzki here, because while he’s opting out of his contract and becoming a free agent, I fully expect him to re-sign with the Mavericks. For very obvious reason, Dirk needs to get a new contract before the current Collective Bargaining Agreement runs out, and opting out, rather than just signing an extension, allows him to negotiate a “no trade” clause into the deal. If Dirk were actually on the market, I’d have him above Amare, but below Bosh in the order.)

The Good:

LeBron supposedly wants to win RIGHT NOW, so the only way the Knicks can get him is to convince James that in this one summer they are going to overhaul their roster so completely that they will be contenders next year. Having said that, I think that there are more factors involved here than just winning. I think that LeBron’s actions have made clear that he wants to be wooed, he wants to be lusted after, he wants to be in the limelight. I think that New York actually has a very real possibility to get LeBron simply because the King wants the biggest throne possible… and folks, it just doesn’t get any bigger than ruling the Big Apple.

Of course, he’s not going to rule alone.

So, they have to get LeBron and Chris Bosh on a three way phone call and say, we want both of you, we need both of you, and if you come here, then these are the other moves we’re going to make in an effort to win a title.

After those two sign, then you want shooters, lots and lots of shooters. Before Boston’s playoff run I would have suggested signing Ray Allen as the shooting guard, but I think Boston’s success this spring will entice them to keep the gang together for one more year.

So… I make an offer to J.J. Redick. If you watched Orlando’s flameout in the Eastern Conference finals, then you surely came to two conclusions: First, Dwight Howard needs to spend six hours a day in the gym this summer working with Hakeem Olajuwon. Second, JJ Redick, yes… Duke’s own JJ Redick, who struggled in his first two years, is good, real good. He’s always been a great shooter, but his game has grown where he’s now more than just a eighth man off the bench. His defense has improved to the point that he’s not a liability and he’s learned how to get his shot off against NBA defenses. His dribbling’s improved and while I still wouldn’t have him moving with the ball too often, he’s not a turnover waiting to happen. More than just that, he’s a fighter and a smart player. I would always have a roster spot for a smart, fighting shooter.

After Redick, I poach Channing Frye from Phoenix. Frye had his struggles in the series against the Lakers, but he also showed that he’s got a sweet three point stroke. Put him on the floor with James and Bosh and watch the open J’s swish through. He has a player option for this year, but I imagine given his strong year, he’s going to opt out and look for a raise.

So, then we need a point guard. Personally, I prefer Canadian points with hair that my wife always sees and says, “oh, that’s terrible, why’s he wearing his hair like that,” but since he re-upped in Phoenix for another two years, I’d pick up Luke Ridnour off the bargain floor. He’s sort of like Steve Nash-lite and despite a good year for Milwaukee he shouldn’t have a massive price tag.

Finally I want veterans. Some guys who’ve been through the fire and say grumbly, crotchety, inspirational things when the team is in a timeout. This was both Cleveland and Orlando’s problem when things went south against the Celtics, there was no leadership to calm them down in the huddle. Shaq could have been that guy for Cleveland, because he’s won four titles, but that’s just not who he is. Instead, I’d bring in the guy the Cavs jettisoned to acquire Shaq. If you watched Ben Wallace last year, you’d realize that he’s not as dead as we thought two years ago. He’s still a fierce defender and while he can’t score to save his life, this team needs his veteran leadership, his toughness in the post and thus for 20 minute spurts can live with his lazy eye offence.

I also want to add Raja Bell. A D’Antoni favorite from their Phoenix days together, Bell could be a perfect eighth man, giving the team 15 minutes off the pine, hitting some open treys and pestering the Kobe Bryants of the world. The only question with Bell is how the knee that kept him out all of last year is holding up, but since I can’t find that information anywhere online, I’m just taking a leap of faith. I assume that were I really running the team, we’d have some sort of medical staff that could answer this question for us, but then again we are speaking about the team that gave a contract to Eddy Curry, so… who knows.

Hey, speaking of Curry, it’s probably time to round out the roster by moving his postal code sized ass somewhere that wants out of a bad contract. You know who I’d target if I were the Knicks? Lamar Odom. You can forget about all those stories about “if Odom puts it together.” At this point, he is who he is, but I’m actually kind of fond of the player he is, and his versatility is perfect for this team. It’s convoluted and tricky, but the pieces are there for the Bulls, Lakers, and Knicks to pull off a three way deal, depending on what other moves happen. The Knicks would have to give up their last remaining asset in Gallinari and they’d have to take on someone’s onerous contract (think Luke Walton’s remaining three years at five per), but for Odom it’s worth the hassle.

Finally, just to finish it off, in the second round I’d draft Duke’s Brian Zoubek. Why? Well, I have one roster spot left, and honestly, Mikey D never goes beyond eight in his rotation anyhow, so why not just select a massive, pick setting, bone crunching body to round things out. Ok, donesville. Lets see what we’ve got?

PG – L. Ridnour, T. Douglas
SG – J. Redick, R. Bell, B. Walker
SF – L. James, W. Chandler, L. Walton
PF – C. Bosh, L. Odom
C – B. Wallace, C. Frye, B. Zoubek (with either him or Walker D-Leaguing it)

Your crunch time five is Bell (or Ridnour), Redick, James, Bosh, and Odom. Desperately need a three? Then put in Ridnour, Redick, Bell, James, and Fry. You need a defensive stop? Put in Ridnour (ugh…), Bell, James, Bosh, and Wallace. Want to go small? Ridnour, Redick, Bell, James, Bosh (or Odom). Want to go big? James, Chandler, Odom, Bosh, Wallace (or Frye). Want to throw out a really crappy fourth quarter blowout five, then you’ve got Douglas, Walker, Walton, Chandler, and Zoubek.

I like it.

I’m not saying they win a title next year, the point position is weak and they could use a stronger eighth man than Chandler, but… they’re going to be good, they’re going to be exciting, and they’re going to have the garden packed and hopeful every night. Plus, over the next three years, that squad picks up every single midseason buyout, every midlevel exception, and in two years when he’s finally ageing and decides to leave Phoenix, that squad gets a floppy haired, dead eyed shooting Canadian to give them 25 solid minutes at the point. And that my friends, that… truly is the good!

The NBAs Losers Part 1…

May 2, 2010 1 comment

Well, we’re two weeks into the NBAs interminable, never ending, winter of my discontent, playoffs. We’ve got another Spurs-Suns series to look forward too; another Sloan-Jackson coaching clinic; and the LeBron’s looking to put the knife in the ageing Celtics. So, naturally, Sports on the Brain is busy focusing his attention on… the NBAs losers.

That’s right, who cares about the teams in the playoffs, their rosters are set, their fates are sealed, their future will be what it will be. It makes no difference if I make a lousy prediction and tell you that the Suns will win in 7, the Lakers in 6, the Cavs in 6, and Orlando will beat the Hawks in 5. I’ll probably be right about two and wrong about two. Big deal. What’s far more interesting, is… what are the teams that couldn’t get to the playoffs thinking. What are they planning, or, better yet, what should they be planning?

That sounds like something I can really sink my teeth into. So, armed with ESPNs trade machine, Chad Ford’s draft predictor, and HoopsHype’s salary page (plus of course the ever useful Basketball Reference), lets try and get into the heads of the losers (careful, it’s a strange and spooky place…). Today we start with the East, after which we will move on to the West and then the 1st round losers. Warning, what follows is almost entirely drunken conjecture, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also totally awesome.

(PS – just another warning, this is really freaking long. Seriously, I mean print it off and take it in to the bathroom long. And if you get to the bottom, uhmmm… dude, it’s spring, get your ass off the can and go outside).

Toronto Raptors (40-42):

There is no other way to describe this season for the Raps, other than to say it was an unmitigated disaster. Years of poor drafting, doomed this franchise to middling status and forced GM Bryan Colangelo to put all his chips in the middle for Hedo “I chose Toronto over a better team in Portland because of the crazy Turkish nightlife” Turkoglu… Yeah! Turk-O-Glue turned out not to be the glue for a winning Toronto season. His numbers declined across the board from last season, he was benched for celebrating losses in nightclubs, and without Dwight Howard protecting the rim behind him, his defensive indifference was as obvious as his penchant for smoking three packs a day. Of course, his “ole” style D fit right in on a team that gave up 105.9 points per game and had the worst defensive efficiency in the league (110.2).

Now, even bad defenders can be hidden in good defensive schemes, so much of the Raps defensive shortcomings can actually be seen as coaching shortcomings and thus as much as it pains me to clamor for a Canadian’s job, I think the first step for the Raptors this summer is firing Jay “If I stand with my hands on my head, maybe they’ll try defending” Triano. The second step is… Chris “What should I eat for breakfast, better ask my twitter followers” Bosh.

If Bosh wants to leave, well then there’s not much you can do about it, but make damn sure he leaves in a sign and trade rather than of his own recognizance. It’s in Bosh’s best interest to take the Sign and Trade, because it ensures a higher annual salary and an extra year, so if the writing’s on the wall that he’s leaving, Colangelo better ensure that he squirms his fingers in there and gets his prints all over this deal. The worst move would be the rumored trade that sends Bosh to New York for David “Defense means standing near the rim for a rebound, right?” Lee. Ughhh… a Lee-Bargnani frontline might give up 132 points a night.

Chicago will offer Luol Deng, who’s fine, but makes pretty decent coin for a player who’s missed 64 games over the last three years. Personally, if I ran the Raptors, I’d be looking to make a deal with Oklahoma and I’d be asking for Serge Ibaka, and either James Harden or Jeff Green (plus some picks and whatever filler was necessary), I don’t know what Oklahoma would do with that, but it’d be an interesting negotiation.

On the other hand, if Bosh’s twitter account tells him ‘magic eight ball’ style to come back to TO, well then fine. Bring him back, try to find someone who wants Turkoglu, shoot Jose Calderon in the knee (which wont get rid of his contract, but at least saves you the insurance money), and draft Kentucky point guard Eric Bledsoe. The important part is to overhaul the team with tougher players, guys who wont shy away from contact, play defense, and will protect Bosh’s shortcomings.

If, for instance, the Raps could work out a trade with New Orleans that sent Turk and his 44 million remaining to New Orleans for Emeka Okafor and his 52 million contract, then it’s a move which helps both clubs. Okafor never developed an offensive game, and his defense has declined over the last couple seasons, but he still provides a mobile big body to put next to Bosh. For the Hornets, the trade saves them two million this year and six over the life of the contract. If that’s not enough savings for the insolvent Hornets, then the two teams could add to the deal, with the Raps sending Marcus Banks’ expiring 4.75 million deal for James Posey’s two year 13.5 contract. That saves the Hornets 4.5 million this coming year, getting them clear of the luxury tax, and it saves the financially troubled franchise 16.8 million all told.

I’d then make an offer to Josh Childress. Remember him? Well, two years ago, Childress was a restricted free agent with the Hawks, when, fearful of the Hawks matching, no teams stepped forward with an enticing offer. With no other offers to compete with, the Hawks low balled Childress, who in turn took a better payday overseas and left for Europe. Childress has an out clause in his three year contract with Olympiacos Piraeus, and has intimated he’d like to return to the NBA.

I’d make him an offer of the midlevel exception at 12:01 on Free agency’s first day. The Hawks at this point are such a mess that they might not match, and making the offer immediately means that Hawks’ management will still be trying to sort out star Joe Johnson’s free agency. It might not work, but it might…

Finally, I’d hire Avery “Mr Squeak” Johnson. I know that his philosophy of hard nosed defense and controlled offence is anathema to Colangelo, but… at this point Colangelo’s system has been shown to have a few shortcomings (unless of course you have Nash and Stoudemire running it…)

All of that, gives a top eight of:

C- E. Okafor
PF – C. Bosh
SF – J. Childress
SG – D. DeRozan
PG – E. Bledsoe

6th – A. Bargnani
7th – J. Jack
8th – R. Evans

How good they are would depend on the development of DeRozan and Bledsoe and how well sieves like Bosh and Bargnani take to Johnson’s system, but the long term outlook is better than anything this year’s squad offers.

Indiana Pacers (32-50):

On March 6th, the Pacers were a horrendous 20-43 and in line for a top five pick in the draft, but then Jim O’Brien got his team rolling and they strung together a decent 12-7 streak to finish the season. That run dropped the Pacers to the 10th pick in this year’s draft. In a draft with five marquee guys, that’s unfortunate.

Indiana is basically doing what the Knicks are doing, only without the fanfare and a year later. After next year, they could have a 17 million in payroll with only three players on the roster; this year’s pick, Dahntay “I’ve never met a turnover I didn’t like” Jones, and Danny “Why in the world did I sign that extension” Granger. It’s likely that they pick up the team options on youngsters Roy Hibert, Brandon Rush, and Tyler Hansbrough which would increase their cap number to 23 million, but that will still leave 30 plus million to lavish on free agents.

Now Indiana isn’t exactly an attractive option for young black men. It’s not the Big Apple, it doesn’t have the glamour of LA, or the nightlife of Miami, and, as Spike Lee once famously pointed out, it does have some unfortunate historical links to the clan, but it also has a rabid basketball savvy fan base, and it has a history of great hoops. Unfortunately for the Pacers, while this year’s free agent market features unrestricted game changers like LeBron and Wade, 2011’s best free agents, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Marc Gasol, and Thaddeus Young (I don’t list Kevin Durant, because, well, it just isn’t happening…) are all restricted. The only two unrestricted free agents of note are Carmelo Anthony (also not happening) and David West, both of whom have ETOs.

Of course, cap space isn’t only about free agents, the Pacers could also use that space to extract talent from financially floundering franchises. For instance, to use a team from above, if the Pacers offered the Hornets the expiring contracts of Troy Murphy and Jeff Foster, and the 10th pick, and took back James Posey, Peja Stojakovic, and Darren Collison, the Hornets would reduce this year’s payroll by an all important 3.79 this year, which probably gets them out of the luxury tax. The deal also saves them a shade over 11 million on the life of the contract.

For the Pacers, this gives them the young point guard that they’ve been looking for since Jamaal Tinsely went tits up. With a couple other moves, the Pacers still would have a little over 20 million to use in 2011. At which point, I’d dip back into the Hornets reservoir and make David West a 10 million a year offer. Given the general cheapness of Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley, I’d also make a front loaded, slightly inflated offer to restricted free agent Marc Gasol. Heisley and Memphis GM Chris “I still cannot believe I wasn’t invited to Bill Simmons’ Atrocious GM Summit” Wallace can almost certainly be bullied into letting Gasol walk. Finally, I’d take a low cost flier on Milwaukee free agent Micahel Redd. Knee injuries have robbed Redd of the last couple seasons, but he still has one of the sweetest strokes in basketball and thus is worth a flier. Those moves give the Pacers a 2011 roster of (they also will have a lottery pick for the ’11 draft, but speculating where and whom in 2011 is just too much for this bloated scribe):

PG – D. Collison, A. Price
SG – M. Redd, D. Jones
SF – D. Granger, B. Rush, J. Posey
PF – D. West, T. Hansbrough
C – P. Gasol, R. Hibbert

So, you see the key for the Pacers this off season will be to hold serve, not hand out any dumb deals (like, uhmm… say giving a shooting guard with a PER of 9.07 a four year 11 million deal), and maintain their flexibility for next year. Getting a coach who understands the importance of tanking for lottery position probably wouldn’t hurt either, but you didn’t hear that from me…

New York Knicks (29-53):

New York, New York it’s my kind of town… After a decade of ineptitude (the last two years of which were intentional) this is the summer that Knicks fans have been waiting for. I can only imagine that the wait has been excruciating. The NBA’s most intense, knowledgeable fans have been subjected to the Scott Layden era (trades for the obnoxious contracts of Howard Eisley and Shandon Anderson, really starting the bloated spending that became the Knickerbockers trademark), the Isaiah “nothing’s ever my fault” Thomas era (Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry, Steve Francis, Jamal Crawford, Jerome James, Eddy Curry, Malik Rose, Jalen Rose, Penny Hardaway, Jerome Williams, Maurice Taylor, Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry and of course Anucha Browne Sanders and Eddy Curry… need I elaborate?), and the Donnie “First we show up with a lot of money, then we see who signs” Walsh era (61-103 two year record).

They deserve something better, someone better, a King to lead them back to the promised land. Will they get him? I don’t know, but I just dropped 1600 words breaking down the Pacers and Raptors, which means if I tackle the Knicks here, this post will come in at a Simmons-esque 45,349 words. And since I have neither his panache for timely celebrity references, nor his ‘keep the reader engaged’ humor I’ll have to make the Knicks their own column…

Detroit Pistons (27-55):

Wow, how the mighty have fallen, and please somebody get Lifecall on the line, because I don’t think the Pistons can get up. Here we have a shinning beacon of what not to do with cap space. For all those teams that come in to this offseason expecting to reel in the big haul, they should study the Pistons.

Detroit GM Joe “Hey, I drafted Darko, gave Rip Hamilton a franchise killing three year extension, and traded our best player, but I’m a nice guy, so people still think I’m a great GM” Dumars traded team leader Chauncey “Not so Big Shot” Billups last season for Allen Iverson’s expiring contract. It freed up 18 million in cap room for the Pistons, which they wisely used on… Ben “Just not quite starter material” Gordon and Charlie “hairless cookie monster” Villaneuva… What? Them? Really? I mean, any time you can add two players who didn’t start for losing teams and it only costs you ten years and 95.7 million, it’s a no brainer, right?

It was one of those moves that had you scratching your head, I mean, even if it worked perfectly what did the Pistons have? A 42 win team? 45? 47? Surely not 50, not with a frontline of Villaneuva, Ben “I died four years ago, but nobody noticed” Wallace, and Kwame “Michael Jordan f***ed me up worse than Lindsay Lohan” Brown. When the injury bug hit and Rodney Stuckey proved not to be a younger Billups, well, the Pistons spiraled straight down the toilet to a 27 win season. Whooo… the NBA “where ex-players with no formal business training negotiate deals with seasoned litigators” happens!

Philadelphia 76ers (27-55):

Sometimes the worst thing you can do for your franchise is nothing. That would seem to be what happened to the 76ers this season. At the deadline the sharks were swimming around the 76ers bleeding body, looking to scavenge some part of Andre Igoudala. What the Sixers needed to do was cut him off like their right arm, tie him to the bloody foot (Samuel Dalembert) that’s floating alongside and save the rest of the body.

Look I love Iggy, I wish the Suns had drafted him in ’04 instead of trading the 7th pick to Chicago. But the reality is that Iggy’s probably the third best player on a championship squad and because of the mess that is the Sixers, he’s come to be their best player. This poses two problems, first Iggy’s paid as their best player, and second, he believes that he should be a team’s best player. I’ll let you decide which is the bigger problem.

The Sixers have good young pieces, but they also have a lot of deadwood bogging them down. What they need to do, is tie Iggy to one of those pieces (either Elton Brand or Dalembert) and free themselves of those contracts. Fortunately for them, this is the perfect summer to do that. There are a lot of teams with big money to spend, but really there are only a few marquee guys (LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Johnson, Amare, maybe Boozer, maybe Gay) some team is going to get left out in the cold.

Say the Knicks get their wet dream scenario and sign James and Bosh. Then assume that the Bulls move quickly to add Johnson and Boozer, and the Suns, buoyed by their (fingers crossed) run to the finals, re-sign Amare. Suddenly, Miami’s looking at the prospect of losing Wade if they don’t do something, so would they use their space on Iggy and Brand (whom Riley tried to sign way back in 2003) and send Michael Beasley back to Philly?

I know, I know, Beasley’s a massive bust, but he’s still young and that deal clears 107 million off Philly’s cap. Given the massive amount of money owed to Brand, it’s possible that the Heat would insist on Dalembert over Brand, since the Haitian center only has 12 million left on his deal. That’s fine you make that move too, but you’d want some more compensation as a result. Iggy’s a good player, but the deal the team has given him actually makes him a bad player for the Sixers.

Make that trade, figure out a way to get in the top four to select Derrick Favours and suddenly you have a young eight man core of:

PG – J. Holliday
SG – J Meeks (ouch, definitely need an upgrade here)
SF – T. Young
PF – D. Favours
C – Brand/Dalembert

6th – M. Beasley
7th – M Speights
8th – L. Williams

That team wont be good next year, but in Holliday, Young, and Favours, you have a lot of upside and if Beasley rehabilitates the future truly looks rosy. It’s a process, but then when you lose 55 games, you need to think about baby steps and long term improvement.

Washington Wizards (26-56):

Well, that was a fun season wasn’t it? Death of an owner, poop in a shoe, guns in the locker room, and a stripped down roster… add it all up and you’ve got a 26 win season. On the bright side for Wizard fans, the purchase of the team by Ted Leonsis should soon be official. Leonsis, who did a remarkable job rebuilding DC’s hockey team – this week aside of course, should make his first move giving Ernie “Wait you missed all but eight games last season with a knee injury, hhmmm, ok, I guess I’d better make it 111 million” Grunfeld the pink slip.

It may be that Flip Saunders follows him out the door, but this team isn’t going to be competitive for a couple years, so there’s no real harm in keeping Saunders around to be the fall guy in a year or two. Grunfeld’s insistence that the Wizards just needed to be healthy to be a contender show that the game has passed him by. If I’m Leonsis, I start texting sweet nothings to Portland GM Kevin Pritchard who seems to be losing a power struggle in Portland. Pritchard overhauled the Blazers, bringing them back from the dead after the Jail Blazers era. He is the perfect man to understand the delicate balance of rebuilding with draft picks, kids, and cap space management.

The Wizards only have a 10.3% chance of winning the lottery, so whomever Leonsis hires to replace Grunfeld will probably have to do it without John Wall or Evan Turner. Further complicating the new GMs job, will be the old gunslinger himself, Agent Zero. As I mentioned a couple months ago, Arenas will be hard, but not impossible to move. Like the scenario above involving Miami and the Sixers, Washington may find a taker for Glbert once the free agent musical chairs have stopped.

Round and round the free agents go, where they stop nobody knows… oops, no one chooses to sign with the Knicks and Donnie Walsh, desperate to have somebody to show for all this waiting, trades Eddy Curry’s expiring contract for Arenas. If you can’t see that happening, well you’ve never paid attention to the fun things NBA GMs do when the pressure’s on. If the Wizards can get Arenas off their roster, then they will truly have a clean slate with which to rebuild. After that, it’s about making some smart draft choices and filling in the cracks. If the Wiz have Pritchard, I think they’re back in the playoffs in three years.

New Jersey Nets (12-70):

Yowza… twelve wins. That’s one heck of a season. At least we know one thing, you can cross the Nets right off the LeBron list. The two time MVP isn’t going to a franchise that could barely avoid being the NBA’s worst team ever.

Much like the Wizards, the upside for the Nets is a new owner. The Russian Mark Cuban seems like he’s going to be just the man to bring the Nets out of the Swampland and into the limelight of Brooklyn. The Nets have a couple of good young bodies in point guard Devin Harris and center Brook Lopez, and they have more cap space than Meg Ryan has botox, but ughh… 12 wins. Yikes.

That’s too much work for me, plus it’s late, and I hear wolves. Sorry Nets fan(s?), some problems are too big even for a man armed with Sports on the Brain and ESPNs trade machine. You’re on your own…

Look out Next Week for the Western Also-rans and then the 1st round losers.

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