Monday, July 30, 2012

Atlantic Division Obstacles

Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. To attain a top seed in the 2013 playoffs the Knicks need to understand what they are up against in the Atlantic Division. The Celtics, Nets, Raptors, and 76ers stand in the NY Knicks way of taking the Atlantic Division and securing a top 4 seed in the NBA playoffs.  Instead of giving a predicted win-loss record from the recently released schedule that any blogger would pull out of their ass, I present to you a reasonable look at our hopes of locking up a top 4 playoff seed by securing the Atlantic Division.

We must first examine the reigning Atlantic Division champions, the Boston Celtics. Last season the Celtics all but completely dismissed the idea that the age has caught up to their core. Doc Rivers did an outstanding job guiding his team of veterans through constant ridicule and trade speculation. One of the strongest agreements that age won’t hinder the Celtics was the second half of their season and the playoffs. Paul Pierce continued to be the emotion charge that, combined with Kevin Garnett’s move to center and Rajon Rondo’s drive to prove his worth, pushed the Celtics past a spiraling 76ers team to the top of a mediocre regular season division. After going 15-17 into the All-Star break and shopping the self-proclaimed best point guard in the league, the aging Celtics proved their durability by finishing the season 39-27. More impressive yet, they advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals only to lose in 7 games to the 2012 NBA Champions, Miami Heat. Boston proved that age is just a number. Although they lost Ray Allen to the Heat in the offseason, picking up Jason Terry and Courtney Lee in free agency while drafting Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo will prove to cover that loss and add some. While as a New York fan I despise Boston in every regard, it would be ignorant not to regard the Celtics as the biggest hurdle for the Knicks to take the Atlantic Division title.

The team that held the honor of being #1 in our division for much of the shortened 2011-2012 season was the Philadelphia 76ers. They were great to start last season, acting as a mirror to the Indiana Pacers for their first. A solid 20-9 record a few games before the All-Star break almost inexplicably turned into a 35-31 record to end the season. Few things can explain this collapse, but I choose to believe that veteran teams found their stride late in the season to outsmart a 76ers team which relied mostly on athleticism. Losing Elton Brand and Lou Williams while picking up Nick Young and Kwame Brown seems to beg Sixers fans for a parallel movement grade, but I can’t even imagine being that kind. Kwame could never be the 18.07 PER that Brand has been, no matter what Michael Jordan thought back in '01 when he drafted Brown 1 overall. Philly will continue their season end spiral into next season, and if the Knicks can gel together a better record (as they should), the Sixers will once again finish 3rd in the Atlantic Division.

The Toronto Raptors finished second to last in this mediocre division last year with a team only Canada could love. Yet, the Knicks always seem to struggle against teams they should route. Yes New York took the series, but after losing the first early season meeting, the Knicks needed a Linsane buzzer beater to pull out a victory in game two. A lackluster team, with no stars shouldn’t have a much better record than last year (23-43). After failing to acquire the Canada’s basketball child, Steve Nash, they stole Landry Fields away from New York with a very lucrative contract (Nice kid, but not worth the money), traded for perennial under-achiever Kyle Lowry, and lost Bayless. I’d say their offseason was a wash, but the Knicks need to come to play even if it isn’t a game that analysts highlight to be a must-watch.

The Brooklyn team formerly known as the New Jersey Nets placed last in the Atlantic Division last season. JZ and his Russian billionaire buddy have moved their recently acquired team across the Hudson and into Brooklyn. I’m sure you’ve heard the hype by now. They are a top 4 team in the East, a stones throw away from dethroning the Celtics. My reaction to the Nets’ offseason wasn’t as glorified as all of the professional analysts, who I look up to and respect. I just really don’t see it. The contender talk started when talks for Dwight Howard were at a climax. And who’s to say Dwight wouldn’t have been scary in a new black and white Nets’ uniform? But those trade rumors have since been extinguished, and what sort of offseason moves have the Nets made to make a legitimate run? While they aren’t the New York team who let Linsanity walk to Texas, they didn’t make any stellar decisions in my mind. I give them credit for picking up C.J. Watson for a steal at barely above league minimum salary. Yes, they traded for an above average Joe Johnson who has been at his best highlighting above average teams that fail to make much noise in the playoffs. Heck, he couldn’t win with Amare and Nash. Why should he be considered amazing with Deron Williams? That said, the biggest move they made was bringing back the point guard, Deron Williams, who led them to a lousy record the past two seasons.  I think the Nets read the Isiah Thomas GM manual because they decided to not only re-sign, but ridiculously over pay Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, and Brook Lopez. All three are barely average NBA players at most who had bolstered numbers because they were on a crap team (I call it the Chris Duhon syndrome).  Somebody will have to explain to me how a team that goes 22-44 all of the sudden becomes a top 4 team in the Eastern Conference because they acquired one new (overpaid) starting SG to their line-up. A Williams, Johnson, Wallace, Humphries, Lopez line-up will be lucky to be top 4 in a 5 team Atlantic Division. I see the Nets giving their New York counterparts little friction in the 2012-2013 NBA season.

Before we look at a championship, we must focus on securing our division. Then we can look at conference, and after that, think about that pretty postseason trophy. For now, we can only hope that the Knicks will dethrone the Celtics and play serious against the other 3 teams in the Atlantic Division. If the Knicks can put get a serious run going and team cohesion under Mike Woodson, I would expect that we can conquer a previously superior Celtics team. If not, fans can only hope we will stay ahead of a merely athletic Sixers team.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Post 1: Linsane in the Membrane

What a great day to start a fresh new blog for the NY Knicks. Through the turmoil that is the end of the Jeremy Lin saga, Knicks fans have been jumping ship to the Linsanity Part II: Houston or the new brand of Brooklyn basketball. I, for one, am firmly planting my flag as a true Knicks fan. A true fan never waivers. This is a true fan’s blog.

For the first blog post, I could not think of a topic better than the Lin vs. Felton debate. Let’s look over what has transpired and try to see into the Knicks’ brass point of view…

Back in February 2011, Jeremy Lin pushed Tebow-mania aside and took over the sports world with Linsanity by leading a Meloless Knicks team to a 7 game “Linning” streak, torching teams like the Mavericks and Lakers. But as we all know, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Soon Carmelo Anthony would return, and D’Antoni would run away from the Dolan drama taking his point guard friendly offense elsewhere. Teams started scouting Lin, putting extreme pressure on the 23 year old point guard and eventually his knees would give out on him. This let the Knicks continue to the playoffs with the aging Baron Davis and Mike Bibby to control the show. Ultimately, the Knicks would be crushed by the Miami Heat in 5 games of a 7 game series, and Lin would infamously state he could not play while 85% healthy.

Fast-forward past the Miami Heat title and the Bird Rights arbitration (which was assumed to be a miracle for the Knicks) to the start of NBA free agency. The Knicks began by not re-signing Lin right away and watching Fields sign an enormous offer sheet with the Toronto Raptors while they pursued the 2-time MVP Steve Nash. It was widely assumed the Knicks did not want to low ball Lin with the max $24 mil 4 year deal they could offer him. So, they told Lin to find his market value and the Knicks would match. Well the Rockets put the young Asian star’s value at about $30 mil for 4 years (4th year not guaranteed) paying around $5 mil for the first two and about $10 mil for the last two. The Knicks showed their hand right away letting word leak that they would match that offer and any offer up to $1 billion dollars. At the 11th hour, Houston called NY’s bluff. They reformatted the offer to 3 years $28 mil with a $14 mil paycheck in the 3rd year.

Now begin the controversy. Most sources will report the Knicks weary of the luxury tax they would spend in 2015 with Lin, Chanlder, Melo, and Amare set to make a combined $76 mil and exceed the salary cap on their own. That story does not seem to make sense in my mind. As a Knicks fan through the 90’s, I watched Dolan spend ridiculous amounts of money and pay luxury tax on teams that would finish in the bottom on the division. Tons of money went to Eddy Curry and Stephon Marbury. He would pay top dollar for Larry Brown to coach not even an entire season. Why were they hesitant now to spend money on a player fans across the world came to love?

Next, came the Raymond Felton trade. The player who was certain the Knicks would not match Houston’s offer sheet to Lin and stated for certain he was the Knicks starting point guard coming into the 2012-2013 season. Turmoil brews and Knicks fans are split. Half say the Knicks are making the blunder of the millennium letting a future star walk for nothing in return. The second half saying it is the best thing the Knicks could do and Lin is nothing more than a back-up.

How should I, a longtime Knick fan, handle this dilemma? I can’t deny that I was captivated by Linsanity throughout the 2011-2012 season. There is also no conceivable way to jump ship to Brooklyn or follow Lin to Houston. So, I dug into everybody’s story a little deeper to understand the situation from the decision makers’ point of view.
The Knicks roster without Lin looks as follows:
PG- Felton, Kidd, Prig
SG- J.R., James “Flight" White
SF-Melo, Chris Copeland
PF- Amare, Kurt Thomas
C- Chandler, Camby

Mike Woodson stated at the start of free agency that veteran ball clubs win championships. Well, it looks like he got what he wanted. But, why Lin over Felton? Jeremy’s miraculous run lasted through the end of D’Antoni’s term as head coach and ended when Woodson took over, Melo came back, and Lin was injured. Lin, who played his best games under D’Antoni, averaged 15 points and 6 assists in the fast pace, guard friendly offense. Remember Felton’s campaign with the Knicks in the preMelo days? He too played in D’Antoni’s offense, but averaged 17 points and 9 assists. It was the same offense, but better numbers. Also, remember when Felton was drafted by Charlotte? Larry Brown was coaching. The same Larry Brown carried Woodson as an assistant coach before Atlanta wanted him as a head coach. In turn Woodson has near the same coaching style and system as Brown. Felton was undoubtedly an above average point guard under Larry Brown. 

Now people say Felton’s (28 years old) prime is behind him and he is not motivated to be a solid starter anymore. I say Felton never wanted to play anywhere but NY. When he was traded to Denver, he played decently, but then he was exiled again to Portland. Who wouldn’t be angry about uprooting a family and a life halfway across the country… twice? I would be fed up with the business too. In Portland he was unmotivated, playing to get out of his contract at the end of the season. When free agency came along, he had one team in mind to play for: NY Knicks.

So, as Glen Grunwald, the Knicks GM, what are you thinking now? Lin is going to cost the team a fortune and make it hard to acquire new talent in the future with a heavy contract. Felton seemed to put up somewhat better numbers than Lin in the same system. He has also proven himself in a system similar to Woodson’s with Larry Brown when Jeremy barely played in Woodson’s system at all. Felton has also shown a desire and passion to play with the Knicks. Jeremy hasn’t been so adamant. Between the fact that he couldn’t play against the Heat at 85% and reworking a contract with Houston at the last hour, is he really a dedicated player that will put it all on the line for our club and play at a $30 mil level? 

There is no way to predict that Lin would be worth the money he will make. It is however, safe to say that the Knicks will be getting a bargain in Felton. Paying him close to $20 mil less than Lin for a product they can be more certain of. Lin is just too much of a gamble. Felton makes Basketball sense and Business sense.

So there you have it. That is the best logical path I could take to the decision to let Lin walk to Texas. As a Knicks fan, I am sad to see him go, but not angry at him or the Knicks’ execs. I feel that it was the best move for both parties. I hope Lin does well in his future with the Rockets, and I am hopeful that the Knicks will be able to make deep runs into the playoffs with this blueprint.

Orange and Blue, through and through.