James Dolan has made no shortage of questionable ownership decisions during his JFK Jr.-like piloting of the New York Knicks. This is a man who still (tacitly, of course) consults Isiah Thomas on personnel decisions, and has for a decade.
One of the few great moves he made was bringing in Donnie Walsh, a hired gun and architect of a surprisingly competitive Indiana Pacers team from those halcyon pre-Palace days.
Donnie Walsh had two missions, and two missions only: Clean up the Isiah Thomas mess. Land one of the top-flight Class of 2010 Free Agents.
Walsh did a phenomenal job at the first. Using his salary-cap savvy and draft acumen, Walsh fielded a fun team in 2009-10, including young talent like: Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas, Danilo Gallinari, Al Harrington, Jared Jeffries, Nate Robinson and David Lee. Was it a winning team? Hell, no. The squad went 29-53 under Mike D’Antoni.
Then, Walsh drafted Landry Fields in the 2nd Round of the 2010 Draft and plucked Timofey Mozgov from overseas. With all the albatross contracts off the books (and a smart play acquiring Tracy McGrady‘s mammoth expiring deal to free up cap space in the summer) the Knicks were ready to make a play at the ultimate free agent prize: LeBron James.
But LeBron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach. They’re currently drunk off championship champagne and wooing Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to be the team’s sixth and seventh scoring options.
The New York Knicks, meanwhile, are scraping the bottom of the free agent barrel and their fanbase is up in arms that a point guard who was cut by the Houston Rockets less than a year ago and played as a Top-10 point guard on a shorthanded Knicks team against a cream-filled schedule may not have his $25M+ contract matched.
Isiah Thomas may not be in the building, but the Knicks don’t appear to be in much better long-term basketball or salary cap shape than the team was while he was traversing the halls of MSG trying to solicit sexual favors from secretaries.
All that hard work Donnie Walsh did. All undone in a span of two years. How did we get here?
James Dolan turned his endless cap space into Amare Stoudemire. That decision ruined the New York Knicks.
Amare Stoudemire, the injury-riddled psuedo-center who can’t rebound, block shots, play defense or post anyone up (he’s the tallest ‘slasher’ in the game), signed for 5 years, $100 million. The Knicks offered $20 million per year over half-a-decade to a player who was just 22 when he had his first microfracture surgery. Ask Kenyon Martin how well young folks with knee problems age. (More on Amare in a minute.)
James Dolan signed Raymond Felton to a reasonable deal (anything’s an upgrade over Nate Robinson and Chris Duhon, right?)
James Dolan traded promising David Lee for three middling players and a second-round pick, then filled out the roster (hey, use the cap space or lose it, right?) with Roger Mason and Shawne Williams.
The Knicks, at their peak, stormed (I use that term loosely) out of the gate at 16-9, and Dolan was starting to look like a basketball genius. They trotted out a dizzying starting five of: Amare – Felton – Wilson Chandler – Danilo Gallinari – Landry Fields.
But Felton was playing well above his head (or, above his weight class, but don’t worry, he thickened up the past two years to make up for it) and Fields was unusually hot for an unheralded rookie. The team was destined to crash back to Earth at some point.
And crash they did, as the Knicks lost 17 of their next 27. James Dolan knew he needed to find his second superstar and, all year, he was laser-focused on Carmelo Anthony, and Melo was laser-focused on James Dolan’s New York Knicks.
But James Dolan didn’t need to trade for Carmelo. His contract with the Denver Nuggets expired at the end of the season. Not only that, but with a looming lockout and an expiring CBA, singing Carmelo Anthony in the offseason would’ve been significantly cheaper, and would’ve saved James Dolan $20M or more.
But James Dolan couldn’t help himself. Dolan knew he wanted Melo, and he wanted Melo now. So he gutted his overachieving roster, spewing Eddy Curry‘s expiring contract (the most valuable thing about Eddy Curry his entire NBA career), Anthony Randolph, Chandler, Felton, Gallinari, Mosgov, cash, a 2012 second-round pick, and two first-round picks (2013 & 2014) for Melo, half a season of Chauncey Billups (the Knicks amnestied him following 2010-11, leaving them without a point guard and the only player who helped elevate Melo past the first round of the playoffs), Renaldo Balkman, Anthony Carter (for the second time), Shelden Williams and Corey Brewer (who they promptly waived).
James Dolan couldn’t wait. Think the Knicks wouldn’t love that extra $20M? Or those two first-round picks? Could you imagine if James Dolan held onto Wilson Chandler or Danilo Gallinari instead of Landry Fields?
The wafer-thin Knicks finished the season 14-14 post-Carmelo and meekly exited in the first round. (Of course they did.) But not before Amare Stoudemire injured his back in the playoffs (anyone see that coming?) then re-injured himself while trying to play Willis Reed v2.0.
Desperate for a young point guard, the Knicks reached on Iman Shumpert, except for one small problem: Iman Shumpert isn’t a natural point guard and averaged 2.8 assists per game in his rookie year.
Desperate for a third max-contract player in a thin max-contract player year, James Dolan traded for Tyson Chandler, an undersized (though, effective) defensive specialist who’s lethal on put-backs but (again) isn’t a true post-up player. Tyson Chandler counts $21M+ against the cap in 2014-15.
Strapped against the cap, James Dolan amnestied Chauncey Billups then signed Mike Bibby and an injured Baron Davis (hey, one of these Chauncey knockoffs can’t be all that bad, right?).
Then James Dolan signed Jeremy Lin, who’d been cut by two teams in the previous three months. When injuries struck Shumpert and Melo, and Amare Stoudemire’s back flared up again, and with Baron Davis’ comeback from injury stalling (again, who saw that coming?), Lin was forced into starter minutes and became the Knicks’ No. 1 scoring option. For three weeks, against one of the softest schedule stretches anyone in the NBA played all year, times were good.
But, as with most nice things relating to the Knicks, these salad days didn’t last. James Dolan signed J.R. Smith upon his return from China. Yes, this J.R. Smith:
Jeremy Lin tore up his knee, and the Knicks slumped. Carmelo Anthony came back from injury, and the Knicks continued to stumble. Amare Stoudemire came back from injury, and the Knicks slumped. Mike D’Antoni lost his job. (Some might argue, Carmelo tanked D’Antoni out of town.)
But when Mike Woodson ascended to head coach, and Melo flashed unparalleled basketball brilliance over the season’s final month, the Knicks closed the year on an 18-6 run to scream back into the playoff picture and draw the short straw by passing Philadelphia to be the seven-seed. They got curb-stomped by the Miami Heat in five games. Of course they did.
Strapped for cash, James Dolan signed 86 year-old Jason Kidd, and traded for big fat Raymond Felton (remember him?) and 97 year-old Kurt Thomas. James Dolan also signed 124 year-old Marcus Camby. This is the worst legends game ever.
But, Miami’s strapped for cash, and they got Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. So, what the hell’s wrong with the Knicks? Why are they coming off a 42-40 season? Why did a team that looked so promising two years ago age faster than uncorked Pinot Grigio in the Sonoran?
A couple weeks ago, I wrote how to win at NBA Free Agency:
I discussed how much a win cost in the NBA last season according to John Hollinger’s EWA stat ($1.45M), and how the very best players in the NBA are underpaid because of max contracts (for example, LeBron would’ve been worth $42M if he were compensated exclusively for his on-court production).
I also want to call this passage out:
(Also: That’s why the Knicks totally blew it with their “Big 3″ of Melo, Amare and Tyson Chandler, because while Melo and Chandler essentially earned what they were worth, Amare’s EWA left the Knicks $11M – about 5 wins short. You think they couldn’t have used those 5 extra wins? To become the No. 4-seed in the East and avoid Miami until the Conference Finals?)
How many ways has the Amare Stoudemire contract ruined the New York Knicks?
1. James Dolan panicked when he didn’t get LeBron James or Dwyane Wade (or both). Both produced well above their max salaries last year, whereas Amare has broken even the past two seasons.
2. Amare can’t be trusted to stay on the court. He’s gotten hurt in each of the past two seasons, and has missed 21 games (including playoffs, oh and I’m not counting the time he missed for his brother’s death because that shouldn’t be held against anyone).
3. When James Dolan panicked and traded the Statue of Liberty for Carmelo Anthony, he didn’t take into account that Carmelo Anthony does everything Amare Stoudemire does well. Both ball-stoppers, both slash to the basket from the elbow, both are about equally gifted at defense and rebounding.
4. When it became clear that the two stars didn’t share the ball or play defense particularly well, James Dolan overpaid for someone who plays great defense and doesn’t need the ball. That’s how max contracts for Tyson Chandler happen. Max contracts shouldn’t happen to Tyson Chandler, no matter how much he hustles, no matter how likeable he is.
5. Because the Knicks’ Big-3 max contracts don’t produce well above their compensation like Boston’s or Miami’s or San Antonio’s or OKC’s or LA’s “Big 3″, the Knicks went 42-40. Now, instead of veterans lining up, eager to accept a discount to chase rings in the Big Apple, New York’s struggling to compete with other teams by selling “New York” instead of RINGZ – even though Brooklyn can now do the same with their fancy new home in the Five Boroughs, splitting the Knicks’ competitive advantage in half.
Fix the Knicks
But don’t fret, not all hope is lost. Things can look up for the New York Knicks if:
1. Carmelo Anthony plays like did last year in March and April.
2. Jason Kidd mentors Jeremy L– I mean, errr … Raymond Felton and teaches him to be the greatest point guard without a jump shot since Jason Kidd. Short of that, Kidd could at least let Felton be his designated driver.
3. Amare Stoudemire stays healthy and forgets he’s 30 years old and made of glass. HAHAHA never going to happen.
4. Baron Davis returns in shape to help develop Iman Shumpert’s offensive game and WTF THEY BOTH BLEW OUT THEIR KNEES IN THE PLAYOFFS?!
Draft well in 2013 and 2014 oh, what’s that? You don’t have any first-round picks left?!
Have fun, New York! At least now you have The Nets!!