Friday, December 17, 2010

A Better, Cheaper Fit for The Knicks Than Carmelo Anthony

According to the Charlotte Observer, a pair of NBA executives have confirmed that the Bobcats are gauging the trade value of everyone on the roster, including co-captains Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace.

At 9-16, and having lost four of their last six games- two of those by 30+- the Bobs’ season is clearly circling the drain. And this is not one of those teams that’s “better than their record would indicate”- particularly on offense. Only two teams are scoring fewer points per game, only five teams (the Clippers, Kings Nets, Cavs and Bucks murderers’ row) are less efficient offensively, and no team turns the ball over more frequently (16.3% of possessions) or gets more shots blocked (8.7% of FGA).

On top of all that, Larry Brown says he’s having to “beg them to play,” while the owner (Michael Jordan) is giving the team “loud and stern” lectures.

So, yeah, it may be time to shake things up… again.

Unfortunately for fans in the Queen City, the closest the Bobcats have come to the top of the NBA mountain is a four-game beating at the hands of the Orlando Magic last spring- and the starting point guard from that squad, Raymond Felton, now spends his evenings lighting up the Garden. What’s worse is that for all of their wheeling and dealing in last couple of years, the Bobs have done a pretty pathetic job of accumulating either young talent or cap flexibility. Rather than burn a few hundred words on it here, for a breakdown, check out my 2010-11 Bobcats’ season preview.

Which brings us to the seemingly imminent roster shakeup in Charlotte. The Bobs’ payroll for the 2010-11 season is $65.9M, with another $58.6M committed for next season. While these aren’t crazy numbers, the only teams for whom this model is sustainable are those with significant national TV and playoff revenue (and the Knicks). The Charlotte Bobcats are neither. Clearly something’s gotta give.

Cue the aforementioned New York Knicks.

With summer signees Amar’e Stoudemire and Felton quickly capturing the heart of Gotham, with the former even gathering some MVP buzz, the Knicks, rapidly becoming the darlings of NYC, are looking to add some juice to their resurgence. Their pursuit of Denver Nuggets’ SF Caremlo Anthony has been well publicized (to put it mildly), but one obstacle to any deal is Carmelo’s cap number ($17M), which the Knicks would have to match in any trade. The Knicks’ current roster is top-loaded, in terms of both salary (only three guys make over $4M, and two of them are Stoudemire and Felton) and talent (just five good players- Stoudemire, Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and second-round surprise Landry Fields), making it virtually impossible to assemble a package that a) matches in salaries, b) offers the Nuggets enough on-court talent to justify dealing a player of Carmelo’s quality and c) doesn’t totally gut the first feel-good Knicks’ roster in at least a decade.

Given this, and the Bobcats’ apparent intention to take their wares to market, a move to acquire Gerald Wallace makes far more sense for the Knicks than a win-at-all-costs pursuit of Carmelo. While Wallace is clearly not the scoring threat that Melo is- though he is fairly efficient, averaging 16.7 ppg on 12.8 FGA/game in an inefficient, slow-down offense- nor does he possess the same level of star power. However, he’s a former All-Star that, from the Knicks’ perspective, does bring plenty to the table:

A far smaller price tag. I realize the Knicks seldom concern themselves with financial matters, but a sound money move never hurts. Wallace will earn over $7M less than Melo in 2010-11, and is potentially under contract for two more years- $10.7M in 2011-12; $11.4M player option for 2012-13, which could be made pretty attractive by the new CBA- at what a single year of Melo is likely to cost.

More important than the dollars saved, however, is what the Knicks stand to save in on-court talent. For the first time in recent memory the Knick have a core group that’s young, likeable, talented and unselfish. This team is by no means a finished product, but they’re pretty good and seem to really enjoy playing together.

Based on various reports, in order to acquire Melo, the Knicks will have to give up their most valuable financial asset (Eddy Curry’s expiring $11.3M contract), as well as at least one (probably two) of their #3-5 players (Gallinari, Chandler and Fields) with little in the way of quality depth to take their place. Given the budding renaissance at the Garden, along with the fact that they’re already under the cap ($58.1M committed for 2010-11, and just $42.5M for 2011-12), the Knicks no longer need to desperately overreach to attract talent.

There’s an actual foundation in place, and the Knicks are best served by trying to add logical pieces to it, rather than by simply swinging for the fences with big names.

Rebounding and defensive effort. As the season’s opening weeks have shown, putting points on the board is not a challenge for this squad- the Knicks rank behind only the San Antonio Spurs in both points per game and offensive efficiency. However, rebounds (20th in the NBA), especially at the offensive end, and defensive stops (28th in points allowed, 19th in points allowed/100 possessions) have proven tougher to come by for these Knicks.

Normally a very solid rebounder, Carmelo is enjoying a career year on the boards (8.3 rpg in 2010-11, v. career average of 6.3 rpg), while Wallace, at 8.1 rpg, in line with his averages form the past two seasons. The sustainability of Carmelo’s stellar work on the boards remains to seen, though it’s worth noting that both currently have rebound rates well above the league average.

At the defensive end, while Carmelo is not a total liability, he’s not renowned for his hustle, nor is it likely that he’s ever going to earn big bucks as a shut-down defender. Wallace, on the other hand, is an elite athlete and a playmaking defender (3 blocks/steals/charges taken per game, 9th in the NBA and more than double the league average, which is approximately where Melo is), both on the ball and from the weak side.

In acquiring Wallace (with Matt Carroll, for Curry's expiring contract, perpetual prospect Anthony Randolph and Bill Walker makes sense, no? see it here), the Knicks would not only be keeping most (or all) of their current core together, but would be addressing actual issues, rather than star-chasing. Either in a starting role or playing significant minute off the bench, Wallace’s on-court contributions are perfectly suited to helping the Knicks address their current shortcomings.

No alpha dog issues. It’s probably been a log time since Carmelo Anthony was not the clear-cut #1 guy on a basketball team- not counting Team USA- and rightfully so, the guy’s an elite player. However, often times when a player’s occupied this spot on teams for several years, he comes to expect that the “alpha dog” title is his by default and- as we’ve seen with Chauncey Billups in Denver- challengers to the throne are usually not welcome.

Based on nothing more than my perception of him from afar, it would appear that Carmelo Anthony’s vision of his arrival in New York is not significantly different from what Amar’e’s was this past summer. His plan- other than getting his new wife to city where her star can grow- is to become a New York City icon and the face of the NBA by returning the Knicks to prominence.

Thing is, someone else got there first. While Melo would clearly never be considered Amar’e’s “sidekick,” he’ll have a tough time established the same connection with the Knicks’ fans that Amar’e already has.

This summer, the Knicks took a $100M leap of faith on Amar’e- and he reciprocated the gesture by committing to them before any of the other big-name dominoes had fallen. With each passing game, it’s clear that he came here not only to put up numbers, but to become the heart of pro basketball in New York, to hold the frenzied MSG crowd in the palm of his hand. And six weeks in, he’s delivered.

Amar’e Stoudemire is the bizarro version of countless big-money free agents that have rolled into The City only to be crushed by the massive expectations that awaited them.

Amar’e has embraced those expectations. He’s not only basked, but thrived, in the glare of spotlight. The Knicks are his team, not by necessity, but by natural selection. In the first week of July, when he scribbled his name on a $100M contract, this is what Amar’e had in mind. When he boldly proclaimed at his introductory presser that “the Knicks are back,” this is what Amar’e had in mind.

Not only would it be ill-advised to tinker so aggressively with a formula that appears to be working pretty well, it would be unfair of the Knicks to trade most of the current supporting cast in exchange for a star who’ll be looking to launch a coup on Amar’e’s reign as the king of NYC hoops.


Arjun Chandrasekhar said...

i hadn't thought about getting wallace - but actually this makes a lot of sense. they knicks get a guy who's 80% as good as melo while giving up about half as much as they would have to give up to get melo. g-force is not as good but probably a better fit given their needs - with wallace and gallo you'd have two forwards who complement each other perfectly and cover up for each other's weaknesses. if this is on the table i'm not sure why the knicks would turn this down.

felton/chandler/wallace/gallinari/stoudemire - i'm not sure if you can win a title with that group, but who knows, they would definitely have a chance against anybody if crash and stat play out of their minds.

Dave Hahn said...

I'm a huge fan of Wallace and Knicks, so naturally I am huge fan of bringing these two together. What Wallace may lack in flashy-scoring of a Carmelo, he more then makes up for with his defense and rebounding prowess.

But more then anything Wallace addresses our actual need to improve our defense -- and I'd argue that he could even have an exponential effect on our overall defensive prowess. We have three incredibly talented youngsters (Gallo, Fields, Chandler) who could potentially feed off of Wallace's intensity on the defensive end.

In any case, Wallace helps us a lot more then Melo would. Unfortunately, the mainstream press in NYC makes it sound like Melo is a "no brainer". If logic prevails in the front-office of the NYK, Wallace is a Knick before the trade deadline.