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Why the Andrea Bargnani trade bothers me

It's not SO bad, but it's a little bad, and it lives alongside lots of other little, bad things.


It is morning, and the Knicks still have an agreement to trade Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, a 2016 first-round pick (to be swapped with Denver's if Denver so chooses), a 2014 second-round pick, and a 2017 second-round pick to the Raptors for Andrea Bargnani.

Here is how I am thinking about the trade this morning:

1. I like Andrea Bargnani a lot, I believe he's still a promising player, and I think he has a slight chance to fulfill that promise on a new team.

However, I am a deeply sick person and this is just a guess. Toxic situation or not, Bargnani's numbers in Toronto-- especially over the last two or three years-- were horrendous, and were produced between long bouts with injury. My vision of Bargnani turning things around is an assumption. It is baseless. Most of the league would not operate under this assumption, which is why the Raptors grew pretty desperate to move Bargnani and even considered using the amnesty provision to release him. Bargnani is the kind of player you trade with picks, not for picks. He also doesn't have an obvious role within the current Knicks roster.

2. Marcus Camby was useless to the Knicks, so losing him means nothing.

However, the Knicks acquired Camby from the Rockets for Toney Douglas, Jerome Jordan, Josh Harrellson, and two second-round picks, so his uselessness was costly.

3. Steve Novak became pretty close to useless to the Knicks and is due money into 2015-2016, so losing him actually improves New York's financial flexibility in the summer of 2015.

However, the Knicks signed Novak to that four-year, $15 million contract last summer.

4. The draft picks will all be low. The Nuggets have the right to swap for that 2016 first-rounder, so it's bound to be late. The second-rounders are second-rounders.

However, these picks were not surrendered in a vacuum. Draft picks are valuable, especially to teams without cap space-- first-rounders get you a cheap, young player and second-rounders give you dibs on an even cheaper, young free agent. Draft picks also work as trade assets, even sometimes for players who aren't Andrea Bargnani. The Knicks now own as few draft picks as the league permits over the next four seasons. They have no first-rounder in 2014 or 2016 (unless there is pick protection we haven't heard about, in which case still probably not). They have no second-rounders in 2014 (unless, I believe, the Celtics' second-rounder is outside of the top 55. Then it's conveyed to the Knicks), 2015, 2016, or 2017. Incidentally, the 2014 second-rounder New York is giving up was acquired from Oklahoma City in exchange for Ronnie Brewer.

Presented differently:

Year First-rounder? Second-rounder?
2014 Nope. Nope (maaaaybe one of the last five picks).
2015 Yeah! Nope.
2016 Nope. Nope.
2017 Yeah! Nope.

It's systemic. Yes, late draft picks can be acquired for cash, but: 1. Not as readily as they used to be, because most other teams value them highly under the new CBA. 2. The Knicks have already proven willing to blow the cash necessary to buy draft picks. They couldn't buy a pick last week because they'd long since used up the $3 million allotment for doing that.

The Knicks traded three picks (value) for a player widely regarded as valueless, if not outright detrimental, to his previous team. The picks lost are relatively weak, but they are also the very bottom of the Knicks' pick barrel. The Knicks recouped some flexibility in the deal, but only because they were undoing mistakes (mistakes that cost money and more picks) from the previous summer. They regained lost ground, but lost other ground in doing so.

I like Andrea Bargnani a lot and I'm hopeful he can surprise folks by making helpful contributions to what promises to be a weird, wild 2013-2014 Knicks team. I'll enjoy rooting for him to exact revenge and prove people wrong, even though evidence suggests he'll fail in that regard. Despite my affection for inefficient outcasts, I don't think the Knicks need Andrea Bargnani, think they overpaid to get him, think they probably could have matched his on-court value with a far cheaper player, and think the deal looks especially bad in the context of New York's over-spending and pick-draining in years past. In other words, this trade bears all the hallmarks of stereotypical Knicks management.

Unless it is the precursor to some major move (a possibility), the Bargnani trade is a pretty small thing. I just think it's a bad small thing. A fun, bad, small thing. But we're used to those!