30 teams in 36 or so days: New York Knicks
September 29th, 2007
Players acquired via free agency or trade:
Zach Randolph (acquired from Portland)
Dan Dickau (acquired from Portland)
Fred Jones (acquired from Portland)
Players acquired via draft:
First round: Wilson Chandler (23rd overall)
Second round: Demetris Nichols (53rd overall, rights acquired from Portland, not yet signed)
Malik Rose (opted in)
Kelvin Cato (unsigned)
Channing Frye (traded to Portland)
Steve Francis (traded to Portland)
If he has not done so already, Isiah Thomas needs to write an autobiography. Actually, he needs to write about three. One about his time as a player, one as a General Manager, and one for amusing miscellany. I can safely say without a shadow of a doubt that I would buy all three. Not even a moment’s hesitation needed. And I think the same applies to about half of you. Maybe give him his own TV channel, and just run endless documentaries on him. I’d watch them. There’s just too much stuff going on at all times where Isiah Thomas is concerned.
Win or lose (but normally lose), these Isiah-led Knicks have been an absolute fixture at the top of the NBA’s “did you hear this?” listings. From the moment he took over, ‘forfeiting’ the ‘future’ of the franchise by trading for Stephon Marbury (the notion that Milos Vujanic constituted most of the Knicks future is still funny), Isiah has continued to dumbfound, amaze and amuse in equal measures. Whether it be by making the type of trade for which they had to invent their own category (“A Trade Only Isiah Could Make”), or for one of many stories that come out about him (such as his role in instigating the brawl against Denver, or wanting to kill Bill Simmons, which is the Tarantino film they never made but should have done), Thomas and the Knicks in general always seem to rustle up something with which to entertain. You can’t help but disbelieve the roster moves that he makes, and you can’t help but believe the stories that you hear about him. He’s just that sort of person. Never say never with Isiah Thomas. (Or is that Mike Tyson? Hmmm. Anyway.)
This offseason, he went and did it again. Twice.
Apart from the occasional grumbling about potentially re-signing Allan Houston – a man Thomas tried to dump in any way possible when he first joined the Knicks, before Houston finally accepted a medical retirement, a decision he seemed to have reneged on – no news really comes out of Knicks land these days unless it’s about the Anucha Browne Sanders lawsuit. Everything that I know about the subject has come directly from Bill Simmons’s recap of the whole shebang, which answered many of my questions, and is there it is for you all to see.
Isiah’s other storyline came before the start of the trial (which seems so long ago now), when he made the biggest headlines on draft night, trading Channing Frye, Steve Francis and a future second-rounder to Portland for Zach Randolph, Dan Dickau, Fred Jones and the draft rights to Demetris Nichols. With an overflowing roster, it is entirely possible that only one of those last three makes the team this season, or none if Allan Houston is signed. So they’re not really factors here. Additionally, Francis was traded to Portland knowing that:
a) Portland would buy him out, and
b) Had New York been unable to deal him, they would have bought him out instead. Francis was merely salary filler.
The trade was essentially therefore just Frye for Randolph. When you put it that way, it sounds OK. But let’s look a little deeper.
The Knicks of last year were a talented, but ill-fitting group of players, with a lot of distinct weaknesses to address. A very good rebounding team in spite of having Eddy Curry at centre, the Knicks consistently had trouble defending the perimeter, ranking third-last in the league in three-point percentage against. They also turned it over way too much, ranking dead last in the league with 17.1 a game, whilst also ranking second-last in blocked shots per game with 3.1, a mark bettered (or worsened) only by Milwaukee.
Now to get rid of Francis goes some way to helping with these deficiencies, particularly those of the turnover rate and offensive stagnificationness that the Knicks would go through at times last year. The offence revolved around forcefeeding Curry, who responded with almost 20 points a game, but it wasn’t exactly the most inventive or successful strategy, and it was to cause problems whenever New York needed somewhere else to turn. Inefficient scoring from the perimeter players, plus the team-wide turnover woes, left New York as a one-dimensional offensive team. And that offence was rather easy to nullify with a bit of common sense and flopping, as Chicago demonstrated on more than one occasion last year. When combined with New York’s poor defence, it didn’t make for a very promising line-up, which was reflected in their final record – New York ended up 32-50, firmly entrenched in the lottery. And they didn’t get to keep their lottery pick, either.
Why, then, did they decide Zach Randolph would somehow solve these problems?
While far from an exact clone of Eddy Curry, Randolph and he do share similar weaknesses. Both are poor defensive players, with mediocre at best man-to-man defence and abysmal help defence. Both players also turn it over way too often, stagnate the offence due to their lack of passing skill and passing desire, and are also almost exclusively to be found in the paint or the post on offence (or that’s where Randolph should be, at least).
Also, New York has a relatively young core of players – is that really the kind of scenario in which you want to bring in Zach Randolph, Mr Locker Room Chemistry 2006? Portland certainly didn’t think so – they would rather pay Steve Francis $30 million to never ever turn up than they would have Randolph around their group of young players.
Then again, it’s only Channing Frye, so maybe it was worth a flyer. Maybe it’ll be so quirky that it works.
One thing the Knicks on-court product of last season never lacked in was drama. If you were a Chicago fan rooting in your heart of hearts for the Knicks to lose, or just a Knick fan hoping in your heart of hearts that the Knicks would win, then you ran the full gambit of emotions throughout their season. Whether they won or lost, whether they were being blown out or were miles ahead, and whether they were playing a good team or a bad team, all Knicks games seemed to culminate with high drama finishes. Sometimes, they were on the winning end – see David Lee’s tip in versus Charlotte, Eddy Curry’s three-pointer vs Milwaukee, or Steve Francis’s three versus Washington. And sometimes, they were on the losing end, such as with Josh Howard’s game-saving block for Dallas early on, or Marbury’s missed final second free throw versus Seattle.
Whatever the result, it made for some entertainment. And that’s a good thing. This Knick team has got some fight, and some pride within them.
They just haven’t got the ability, nor the cohesion.
The old saying goes that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’. And it’s true. San Antonio proves this adage time and again, continuing to win championships with only three legitimate NBA players (I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea). New York Knicks teams under Isiah’s regime have proven much the same in the complete opposite way: continuing to add talented players time and again, it so far hasn’t helped any, as the Knicks continue to miss the playoffs.
Next year figures to be no different. Adding an extremely gifted player who is the total package of talent, attitude and contract while solving none of the team’s weaknesses and also consequently forcing arguably their best player to the bench doesn’t seem like a winning formula to me. It sure wasn’t when Isiah tried it with Steve Francis, or Stephon Marbury, or Jalen Rose.
But, I guess we’ll see. I’m a natural cynic, what would I know about anything anyway?
(Also, gambling tip for you gamblers out there – go and bet on Renaldo Balkman leading the Knicks in blocked shots per game next year. Because it’s going to happen. And it’s probably going to be around about 0.9 a game. Good fun.)
I am continuously intrigued by the esoterica and minutiae of all the aspects of building a basketball team. I want to understand how to build the best basketball teams possible. No, I don’t know why, either.
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