Friday at Knicks Film School,
the only guys who were willing to do this the best and brightest minds from both KFS and P&T got together and began a discussion about which way David Fizdale should be leaning in settling on a final starting lineup and rotation as his self-imposed 25-game deadline approaches. They’ve agreed that Emmanuel Mudiay, Tim Hardaway Jr., Noah Vonleh and Enes Kanter should get four of the five opening sports. Jonathan Macri left off wondering if Frank or Dot should get that final spot. It’s your move, Mr. Pooh…
Look, I definitely want Frank to start, but I really want Frank to be comfortable in whatever role he’s being asked to play and stick there for awhile. He seems to be growing into this bench combo guard/wing role Fiz has him playing right now (should have played more against Memphis if I wanted to nitpick, but I don’t). Maybe later in the year if Frank shows out for a while in his current role then you move him, but stability is a good thing for young players and we’ve already jerked him around into different roles three times this season. Let’s stick to this thing and see how he grows.
Dotson also fits more into the type of role Hezonja is playing, minus all the amazingly dumb shit and with good defense, so it wouldn’t require as much recalibration for the other four guys as much as adding Frank into the mix who does need the ball a bit to be at his best.
Man, even the argument Mudiay won’t be here next year doesn’t hold much weight with me. He’s 22, the front office braintrust and Fiz both seem high on him, and he’s growing on both ends of the floor while putting together consistent efficient displays. There’s definitely a world, one which sadly neither Durant nor Kawhi are a part of, where he’s a Knick well into the future — and I’m fine with that, so long as he keeps up this level of inspired play.
In general, I think people need to cool their jets with assuming who is and isn’t part of the future. The team is fucking young. We’ve got three dudes who can’t even legally drink yet in the rotation, and the oldest players we’ve been playing since Lance got hurt are 26 years old. The book isn’t closed on any of these guys being pieces of “the core,” except for Hezonja, who I’m closing the book on and donating to the public library. If any team wants one Mario Hezonja please call up Scott Perry and offer up a second-rounder.
I think if you try to donate that book to your local branch, the library police will come after you for harassment. If Scott Perry can get a second rounder for Mario Hezonja — he of the 37/25/54 shooting splits — they should rename Penn Station after him.
I’m drinking your Kool-Aid on Mud (how great of a nickname is that, BTW? And it sounds perfect rolling off Fizdale’s tongue), and more generally, agree with your points on the core. Not developing the guys that are here and simply praying Durant says “yes” in July would be Same Old Knicks. Having a backup plan that involves players you’ve just spent a year ingraining into your program is the way to go.
You’re also right on Frank, at least for right now. We all know he’s getting some March and April starts regardless of what happens at the moment. The most important part is that he’s comfortable in his own skin on the court, which he seems to be right now. God knows that hasn’t always been the case. Also, he has the second-best net rating on the team since being moved to the bench. Young players helping you win while they develop: what a concept!
So then it’s Mud/Tim/#FreeDot/Vonleh/Kanter...that leaves a second unit of Frank/Burke/Trier/Knox/Mitch, which seems nice and tidy to me.
There’s only two problems: Courtney Lee is getting closer to returning, and Mario was your big summer signing. You need to play Lee in order to move him, so what happens while you’re trying to make that happen? And with Hezonja, isn’t it bad optics to bench the dude who picked the Knicks over several other teams because he believed in their ability to rehabilitate his career?
Sorry to lob these late-in-the-shot-clock grenades your way, but I’m genuinely stumped.
Isn’t it bad optics to start a dude who can’t throw the ball in the ocean and tries to go coast-to-coast like he’s Russell Westbrook way too often? In all seriousness, I get the argument you’re making here and it’s almost certainly one which has played into Hezonja’s completely undeserved starting stint. Fizdale has to play some politics, and Mario happens to be benefiting from that side of the game which we all too often gloss over as if it doesn’t exist.
We know that Perry was part of the Orlando front office which settled on Hezonja as their selection after Big Chief Triangle took their primary target, Kristaps Porzingis, immediately before. Hezonja credited Perry and his comfort with him after their time together in Orlando as a major reason why he ultimately chose New York over a number of other options last summer — yes, there really was a bidding war for Mario Hezonja’s services last summer. Perry was vocal about his belief in Hezonja’s talent and work ethic after the signing. I would venture to guess that in signing him, some promises were made to him with regards to playing time and getting an opportunity to start.
This is the game beyond the game that Fizdale’s probably negotiating right now. I’m skeptical he really thinks Hezonja was a meaningful contributor to the Knicks’ recent three-game winning streak and knows that Dotson has been more of a “winning” player, but he has to answer to his higher-ups, and right now he’s doing Perry a solid.
As far as Lee is concerned, I don’t think he needs to play that much. Yes, he needs minutes to show that he’s not a drooling vegetable and can still pump-fake on a semi-contested three to step into a pull-up long two with the best of ’em, but how long is that really going to take? Assuming he’s healthy when he comes back, Lee’s been consistent with his production and the type of player he is for a long time. I think if a team is interested in him, they won’t need to see too much to convince themselves he’s ready and able.
Are we also even sure that this injury hasn’t been a little bit of an act by the Knicks with his tacit approval? Dude was at the scorer’s table ready to check in against Brooklyn in October before Fizdale called him back, presumably after Perry and Mills got on a direct line with him and told him to cut the shit. Since then he’s been inactive entirely rather than just collecting DNP-CDs in a jersey. I’m more interested to see if they have to give up anything of value to move the deal. Would they have to attach Burke? A second? Two seconds? Cash considerations?
You bring up some questions that relate to one of the larger overarching questions I’ve been wondering about Perry and Mills for the last year: how insistent are they that Courtney Lee is a neutral asset on his current contract? I’ve praised them for not salary dumping him at last season’s trade deadline because we’ve seen this franchise sell low on almost anything resembling an asset far too many times in the recent past, but it’s getting late early, as they say. Assuming they send Trier down to the G-League during the Lee audition (the timing should coincide nicely), they’ll need to make a move quick. My guess is that they’d attach the second rounder they have coming to them this year, likely from Houston, but nothing more. If no one is willing to bite at that price, I’m honestly not sure what Perry does.
On Mario, I hear you. We all do. It’s... kind of... one of those things. I won’t mention that Hezonja is currently repped by CAA, while Dotson’s agent currently has only one additional NBA client, because that will take us down a dark path. And as Berman’s article just showed, even the smallest wheel can squeak loud enough to be heard.
I feel like this is heading down the road of Mario being in the starting lineup longer than we’d like — maybe another 10 or 15 games — followed by Knox moving in and rotating DNPs/”rest”/BS low-level injuries that will have various guys off the active roster for a game or two at a time until maybe one more move can be made at the deadline.
So that seems to be that, unless there’s something I’m missing. Last minute “Ron Baker: Untapped Potential” arguments, perhaps?
With Courtney Lee, I’m wondering if the best play isn’t to wait until closer to the trade deadline, then include a second rounder AND the maximum $5.1 million in cash they can in a deal. They’d have paid out the majority of Lee’s deal, and the cash probably covers the rest of what he’s owed to whatever team he’s moved to this season, which makes the deal more financially palatable.
Personally, I’m not sold they’re going to be super aggressive about unloading Lee this year. It seems they may have to give up a young player or asset(s) of actual consequence, and if so, waiting until the summer to see if they even really need the cap space they gain from moving on from him makes some sense. That’s probably the only major decision facing the Knicks until next summer, when they’ll likely have another lottery pick to add to the mix, to re-sign a certain 7’3” Latvian to a massive contract and potentially add a difference-making max FA to the mix. Is it worth it to attach Burke if it unloads Lee just for an expiring? How about a re-energized Mudiay? Dotson?
Unfortunately, the ship has sailed on The Ron Baker Story. If there’s any contribution I can see him making to the Knicks moving forward, it’s his expiring salary being used to grease the wheels of some other deal.
At least he’ll always have his writing career to fall back on if this whole professional basketball thing doesn’t work out for him.
Jonathan Macri can be found at Knicks Film School and on Twitter at @JCMacriNBA.