Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Uncomfortable Truths: How to Fix the Knicks

Famous American poet, author, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau once said, " Its not what you look at, its what you see." On the surface a 58- win season, the first division title since 1993-94 season with the first playoff series victory in 12 years would seem to mark true progress. But with the team payroll of  $ 76,978,302-4th highest in the NBA, little salary cap flexibility due to $ 58,978,201 bound to their own structurally flawed version of the "Big Three-Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler-the season was a success only with a baseline of lowered expectations. Forty years in the media capital of the world and the mecca of hoops, championship-famished fans have little choice but to revel in moral victories. Aim low and achieve you goals! To find right solutions, you first have to identify the root cause of the problems. With that said......


Even a broken clock is right twice a day. What can you say about Knick ownership? Well, they will spend money-not always wisely-but they will spend money. The congenital ineptness of  Jim L. Dolan, Chairman of Madison Square Garden, owners of the Knicks, has been well chronicled. There is little to add other than if the Knicks EVER win a championship, it will be despite ownership.  His utter lack vision, imagination, and strategic thinking have doomed the Knicks to indefinite  mediocrity. His flawed business model  has been more about marketing and entertainment. Winning a championship has never been an organizational mandate. Rather, fielding a competitive team for Cablevision's MSG network and hopefully winning some playoff games to justify the exorbitant Garden ticket prices is pretty much the objective.  If good is the enemy of great, good is just right for ownership The good news is at least Isaiah "franchise killer" Thomas is not in the building- at least for now. Talk about karma, who how do you think Donnie Walsh, former Knick GM who Dolan unceremoniously exiled, feels? Not only did his Indiana Pacer team  spank the Knicks in six games, but  they took the champion Heat to seven bruising games. Dolan is even a sports noun. A "Dolan" is a dumb sports management move. Or as  NBA commissioner , David Stern once said the Knicks, " not a model of intelligent management." We can leave it at that.


Well the "best of the 90's" off-season moves did not work out so well for Knick GM, Glen Grunwald. Importing the age-diminished Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas was bad enough. But  then signing Marcus Camby and Jason Kidd to multi-year deals was mind numbing. Or very "Dolanesque." At least  Thomas was cut and Kidd has retired. But you now have an ancient and immobile Camby on your books for a another two years. This was exacerbated by signing Steve Novak to a four year $ 16 million deal. Novak, who may be the single most one dimensional player in the entire NBA, not only hampers your ability to deal, but further diminishes any salary flexibility.  Did I mention , you also have no second round pick this year, and no first round pick next year( Carmelo Anthony trade ).Yes bringing in JR Smith and Kenyon Martin helps. This team however is dire need of youth and athleticism. Having no salary cap flexibility and no draft picks does not exactly help.  Moreover, how can you not have a sports analytics department to compliment your player development( or once again lack thereof)?  This is New York City, the terrain of titans of finance from Wall Street, the hedge fund world, technology mavens, and run by Mayor Bloomberg, and you still look out a linear 20th century lens. That is so...... go ahead and say it, "Dolanesque."  Grunwald will be under significant pressure to make the right moves. But then that requires, V.I.C( visions, imagination, and creativity) the core defects of a franchise living on the fringes

Find more draft picks in this years draft. Many in the sports media have mistakenly called this upcoming NBA draft weak. For true franchise talent, yes. For solid rotation players who help win championships, this is one of the strongest drafts in years. Remember the Thoreau axiom " Its not what you look at, but what you see." That will mean getting very granular and creative( oops I used the the "C " word). That means parlaying some "overvalued" assets and restricted free agents- Pablo Prigioni  and Chris Copeland along with bad contracts of  Marcus Camby plus Steve Novak  for draft pics that will turn into depth and needed young rotation players. In addition, scour the D-league, Europe and the rest of the globe for "undervalued assets." Player development and  insightful scouting is something sorely lacking here.


Love Coach Mike Woodson. His has imbued this team with toughness, a defense-first orientation, and accountability. The bad? His offensive schemes are as imaginative as reality tv dialogue. How bad? Kim Khardasian calls him pedestrian. The Knicks seem to have three plays, high screen-rolls with Felton and Chandler, drive-and-dish for the three-ball,and a heavy dose of iso-one-on-one ball.  They were dead last in percent of field goals assisted at 52.7% and 28th in assist ratio. Too often the Knicks play a lopsided floor with little or no ball movement. The major culprits are JR and Melo.  The orgy of perimeter heavy three ball seduced many to thinking the Knicks were real? Well the axiom, " live by the three, die by the three" played out in the post-season meltdown in Indiana and nearly in Boston.  Can you the outcry if the Knocks lost to a an aging,injury-depleted Celtic team. The collapse was nearly historic. Woodson's very predictable offense is not built for post season success. Iso-Joe in Atlanta, was made possible by "Iso-Coach Woody." Perhaps there is a reason Woodson's teams have never made it past the second round. His coaching is very limited and one has to begin to ask, is Woodson a guy to get you to the next level? As he is currently constituted, no!

Woodson must do a "reverse D'Antoni." D'Antoni is all offense no defense. Woodson has to increase his offensive diversity without sacrificing the defensive focus offense. Woodson must hire a young offensive coach well and start to incorporate flex motion sets. There has to be much more weak side ball reversal, 3-4 picks and rolls with Melo and JR, more 4-5 pick and rolls with Stat and Melo. How about weak side plays that feature flex cuts, flare screens, ball screens, dive cuts, quick back doors cuts? There has to be better player and ball movement. How about getting Melo the ball on the move instead of only catching and going from the elbow? Getting offensive help is not a request for Woodson. This should be a Grunwald directive. Woodson can pontificate all he wants about ball and player movement, but he is the one drawing and calling plays right?


Melo has made major strides, but his not there yet. There is still too much iso and one-on-one with way too much inefficiency. Melo MUST learn how to make plays for his teammates. That will involve making much quicker decisions with the ball, minimize the dribble blindness where he puts the ball on the deck and goes "Rucker" while the rest of the team stands around. In addition, Melo take a page from LeBron, develop a better post game. Why players fail to see they must have a personal skill enhancement program where every year they add something new to their arsenal. Melo you should also work with Olajuwon on his post-game also be at Olajuwns; big man camp. Winning ball is what you do in the off-season, not what you tell reporters after another 9 for 25 shooting game.

Chandler, you have been in the league ten years and still do not feel the need to develop a semblance of a back to the basket game as a seven-footer? I am sorry. You forfeit the right to complain about the offense. Time to call Olajuwon as well.  This is critical considering you have been a post season no-show for two straight years with the Knicks.

 Stat, you are a warrior, it pains me to see the work you are putting in. The body and the mind, however, are not on speaking. Amare has done everything and more yet keeps breaking down.  This is the new normal. Forget him ever being the Amare of old. Starting him with Melo, makes zero sense. He is still abjectly bad on defense. Stat will have to put the ego aside, and learn to be an exceptional scoring force off the bench. Furthermore, he should develop his defensive game and rebounding a s a new under the rim force. I would suggest the Oak Man-Charles Oakely.  This former Knick enforcer can teach you position-standing post defense, boxing out, weak side rotations etc… This is not optional. This is a must 


Here is where the rubber hits the road. Simply put, Copeland and Prigioni are overvalued assets. In Wall Street parlance, time to sell high. Both are restricted free agents who the Knicks have tendered qualifying offers to. Copeland is much traveled feel good story of the year . A 29 year old rookie who put up some numbers and now wants to be paid. Sorry, don’t do it. Do not do a “Novak.”  Copeland is a luxury you cannot afford. Yes he can put the ball on the deck. Yes he can shot the three-ball. No he is a tweener who will be exposed now teams will scheme against him with a real 3 who plays defense Consider, he does not rebound, is a poor defender, who cannot make plays for teammates. And you want to pay him $ 16 million over four years. Milwaukee can pay him. Copeland is imminently replaceable. Ex-Knick Shawne Williams is a very affordable and better defensive option  I will drive him to the airport and pay for the ticket.  


Love Pablo. He is a pesky defender, high hops IQ , and a real ball-mover who excels when Woodson plays dual point guards with Felton. Problem is he is 35. At the vet minimum, yes, anything other, I will drive him……., Delonte West is more than a serviceable replacement and much better defender . Sure you have some Sprewell type risk. But scared money , doesn’t make money

JR , oh JR. Love the strides he made. Rebounding, playing defense, passing and late in the season, attacking the rim. Love it. The Indiana series showed why you can NOT confuse JR with a starter. He is a lost help defender, poor decision maker, low hoops IQ, with virtallu no of the ball awareness. I hear teams will over pay him. OK. This one is a no brainer. If he wants to go for the money , that is his right. Remember Rule 101 of winning basketball know the true value of your assets,. Rule 102 don’t y pay role players starter money. Nowhere does JR fit in better than New York. No one will have the patience that Woodson has either.


Yes you draft 24th and that is capricious. So what do you do? You find a way to get two extra picks with the assets we discussed above( Prigioni, Copeland, Camby, cash etc.... You need two picsk in the first round and one in the second. First move, get Gorgui Deng. He is NBA ready and will act as insurance when -not if- Tyson Chandler breaks down again. Deng's ability to not only protect the rim, but board, alter shots, and defend the perimeter are all vital to any semblance or sustainable success the Knicks will have. He is mobile enough to show and recover and defend out to the three point line, not to mention he has to mention  guarded down low. This versatility makes him much more valuable than say a Jeff Withey.

Then go get the freak-Tony Mitchell. Sure we know his shortcomings. But he is not the secnd coming of Geral Green. He is a 3-4, who can defend, board, block shots and defend the perimeter. He can play with Melo and Stat and gives you a dose of nasty to a team who plays too soft at times. Imagine he, Deng, and Shum in D? You begin in see the picture. He and Deng give you a formidable defensive paring with tremendous versatility needed in  guard driven, pick-and-roll, spacing the floor kind of league where you also need to defend the paint.

Lastly, you need a ball-mover with a perimeter game, who can play back up quarterback. That sounds like Nate Wolters. His high hoops IQ and ability to play dual lead guard with Felton will yield immediate results. yes the aforementioned strategy takes vision and big-picture thinking( items the Knicks seldom have) but hopefully Grunwald is reading this.He can take all the credit. This infusion of youth, athleticism , and speed will change the landscape at the Garden


Its is simple-get Chase Budinger. He is young, athletic, with an handle who can shot, pass and defend. He is coming off an injury and is considered an undervalued asset. He becomes your starting 3 next to Melo and gives you the proper spacing. It also frees up Shump to go back to his natural at the  2


We have said vision is what you do not see, and the above strategy seems to be beyond the realm of the cognitive defects the  Knicks have in their hierarchical DNA. If this doesn't work, become an Indiana fan. They have "Born Ready" and Donnie Walsh, so the New York swag is there. If not pray really , really hard.

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