From the moment Donnie Walsh arrived in New York, his mission statement has been to create cap space and pay a kings' ransom come the 2010 free agency season. Now most people agree that money alone isn't enough to attract a big time free agent, they'll have to at least have some potential stars on the time who the incoming free agents believe can help them win a title.
While the cap space has been cleared for 2010 .... who are the building blocks on this team, those potential stars of tomorrow?
Before people go ahead and skip the rest of this post to start bashing Walsh and caps locking their chant of fire D'Antoni! Lets be real here a second. The task that Walsh and coach D'Less (as some like to label him) were given was near impossible to begin with. Not only did they have to rebuild this team into an enticing future contender, in order to attract free agents, but they had to clean up Isiah Thomas huge mess, and at the same time make the playoffs!
Are you kidding me!
Thomas's mess is so huge that no GM/Coach should be expected to come in here and be competitive &/or attract high profile free agents while they clean up the toxic waste that Thomas left behind. That's too much to ask of even guys like Pat Riley!
Let's recap Thomas' career highlights before we delve into the weaknesses of the current regime. In his first year with the team, 2004, Isiah Thomas pulled the trigger on what shall always be remembered as the worst move of his (co-called) career, if not the worst move in Knicks' history. On January 5th, 2004, Thomas traded for Stephon Marbury, giving up not only New York's 2004 first-round pick, but their 2010 first-round pick as well.
The 2004 pick ended up being the 16th selection in the draft, exactly one spot ahead of where Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks was selected and four spots ahead of where Orlando's Jameer Nelson was drafted. While the draft order for 2010 is yet to be determined, all indications are that 6'4 star caliber point guard John Wall will be the #1 pick in what is expected to be a loaded draft! For those of you who keep complaining that the Knicks play no D, John Wall is an excellent shot blocker at the 1.
In 2005 Thomas chose to draft Channing Frye out of Arizona with the 8th pick, two picks ahead of Andrew Bynum. For those of you who complain that the Knicks have no center and lack height, that's why. Also of note is that Indiana's stat foward Danny Granger was taken with the 17th pick, a whopping 9 picks after Frye!
That season Thomas swapped picks with the Chicago Bulls in the Eddy Curry deal, this after Curry was found to have a heart condition that he refused to let the Bulls medical staff examine closely. That pick that he gave away ended up being the 2nd pick in the 2006 Draft. LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trailblazers was taken with the pick but Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay could also have been drafted. With the 20th pick in the draft Thomas selected Renaldo Balkman, one pick ahead of Boston's Rajon Rondo. With the 29th pick Thomas selected Mardy Collins, eighteen spots ahead of Utah's Paul Millsap.
During Thomas' last draft with the New York, he swapped picks with Chicago again. The Bulls ended up having the 9th pick in the draft. With the 23th pick Thomas selected Wilson Chandler, one pick ahead of Portland's Rudy Fernandez and three picks ahead of Houston's Aaron Brooks.
On top of his failings in the draft, Thomas bloated the Knicks payroll to $130,000,000 dollars annually, with ugly contracts to Marbury, Curry, James, Jeffries, Randolph, etc. That much money was being payed for a team that never won more then 39 games in a single season.
Based on the above evidence, the reason why this team had zero building blocks when Walsh arrived was because of Thomas' complete incompetence when it came to drafting, trading for, or signing talented players, not to mention his horrible coaching.
So before you start burning images of Walsh/D'Antoni in effigy and spouting anything remotely close to praise for Thomas stop, because that man deserves none. Much of what is wrong with the Knicks is still Thomas' fault, though I agree with those who blame the owner for hiring and keeping the lousy guy.
Now that we have established that Walsh and D'Antoni deserve a little slack because of the fowl state the franchise was in when they arrived, lets start picking their game plan apart to see why it does or doesn't work.
First the good; so far so good with the Gallo selection, he has proven himself to be a potential match-up problem for teams, ala versatile foward Hedo. Douglas is showing lots of potential to be a capable PG for the team, the trade for Larry Hughes seems to have given New York a veteran ball distributer, who plays pretty good defense and is only 30 years old.
While I don't like the straight up trade of Crawford for Harrington, Al does create more miss matches then Crawford could, plus they both score about the same. Al can take most front court players off the dribble and has long range, while Crawford wasn't strong enough to handle the bigger shooting guards in the league. The trade of Darko for Quentin was great, simply because Quentin was horrible and the Knicks need size and shot blocking down low.
While D'Antoni's defense coaching skills leave something to be desired, he has shown he is a brilliant offense coach, leading this terrible squad last year to high marks offensively, and getting more out of low draft picks David Lee, Nate Robinson and Wilson Chandler then anyone thought possible.
Now the bad; Despite all of D'Antoni's perceived brilliance in the offensive game, he has made decisions that just baffle the mind. Why in the world does he play Jarred Jeffries, at all, when he has no post moves, no jump shot, no ball handling skills to break defenders down, barely plays any defense and can't block shots? The man can't even handle a pass and D'Antoni complains that Darko has no offensive game. WHAT?!!
David Lee is undersized at the 4 and it shows as he can't stop opposing forwards from picking him apart down low. He has virtually no post moves, can't play defense and does not have a reliable jump shot with no 3 point range. Given the potential shown by draft picks Gallo and Douglas, I give a lot of credit to the talent scouts that Walsh is using and therefore have high hopes that Hill can play as well as Douglas and Gallo have.
If these three recent draft picks are to be the building blocks that New York has been lacking during the dark ages (2004-2007) when why in the heck is Hill not being given any playing time? D'Antoni's excuse for this has been that Hill has a lot to learn on the defensive end. Like David Lee is an all-defensive team selection? If Hill is lacking in defensive knowledge how is he supposed to learn keeping the bench seats warm?
From what we've seen, Hill has a good mid-range jumper, can rebound, at least showed shot blocking skills in college and hustles as much as Lee. So why play the much smaller Lee when you might have a better option in Hill? David Lee cannot be the PF of the future for New York for no other reason then Lee and his agent are asking for at least $10 mill a year, which is more money they any Knick is worth right now. Harrington is good for New York off the bench, he regularly takes opposing big men off the dribble, being much faster then most, and attacks the rim well with teams having to respect his 3 point range.
Gallo is proving himself to be a very good Small Forward, with the potential to be as effective as Hedo in the future, at the very least. Why then is D'Antoni not running the offense through Gallo? It's not like New York has a better option, with Gallo's skill/height combo creating miss matches that no other Knick can create. Why just leave him parked at the 3 point line all game long? Questionable coaching right there from Mike.
Lets face it, the Knicks have no other option at the 2 besides Larry Hughes. Nate Robinson is the Knicks best scorer and a true slashing shooting guard in skill/play style but his 5'9 frame is way to small for that position. Tony Douglas has ideal height for PG at 6'1 but is also far to small for the 2 spot. Duhon can't shoot, can't slash, can't play and is to small for the 2, so that just leaves the 6'5 Hughes as their only option so why does he not get more playing time?
Larry Hughes is their best option at the PG position, but if he plays the 1 then shooting guard is left vacant, so that leave Douglas as the starting 1 with Nate's great scoring ability as a nice boost off the bench at that position, though his Allen Iverson style of play does leave the rest of the team out of sync. Duhon is, in a word, horrible and should never take playing time away from Douglas, Hughes, or Nate. He routinely does not see the open man, unless he runs the pick and roll which he never runs enough, and he completely misses the open man in the fast break. He often pulls up for 3 pointers three or four feet beyond the arc, pulls up for three pointers off the fast break and seems unwilling to slash into the paint.
Time for the ugly; New York's inability to move up during last years draft, knowing full well they do not have a pick in the first round of the up coming draft, is inexcusable. Wilson Chandler has proven himself to be a bad player. He has no 3 pointer, lacks a good jump shot, has no effective post moves, doesn't have the size or strength for PF, the height for Center, the shooting touch for SG, and he doesn't defend all that well. Gallo is a better option at the small forward spot so he's no good there ... why didn't they trade him for that 4th pick from the Wizards again?
All they had to do was take an ugly contract from the Wiz, and give them Chandler and they could have drafted Curry, Rubio, whoever they wanted and still would have been able to draft Hill at 8! This plan to conserve cap space for a 2010 draft class that may or may not happen depending on the state of the cap space, when/if guys leave their current team and IF they even want to come play for a bad Knicks, is as dumb a strategy as I've ever heard because their are far to many if''s involved, while moving up to the 4th pick in the draft, while keeping the 8th, was a given.
The play time Jeffries & Duhon are receiving is inexcusable, since neither player is any good. If D'Antoni is choosing to play them then he is a fool and I don't believe he is, so that means that Walsh is directing D'Antoni to play Jeffries, Duhon, Curry, etc., heavy minutes to drum up their trade value. That is insane since Jeffries and Duhon have no trade value to drum up and Curry's contract is far to large for his skill set.
Given everything I've said, and I known I just drowned you all in text but bare with me for the deluge is about to end. I think they should start Darko at the 5 for defense, Hill at the 4, Gallo 3, Hughes 2 and Douglas at the 1, with David Lee, Al Harrington, Nate Robinson and Eddy Curry playing heavy minutes off the bench.
Yea I know you all like Lee but he's too small, Hill is a better option at the 4. Yea I know you all hate Curry but he actually can score effectively in the low post, the only Knick who can in fact, and there is a snow balls chance in hell of trading him so might as well play him.
Now I know you all want D'Antoni and Walsh to be fired, today in fact, but that won't change anything since this ship sank to the bottom of the ocean thanks to Thomas back in the early part of the decade and no one is bringing it back unless the Knicks have a good 2010 off season. So lets give them their chance and if the 2010 free agent experiment is a bust you can start chanting Fire Walsh, Fire D'Antonit to your hearts content, In fact I'll join you.