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Thursday, May 10, 2012

New York State of Mind, Part III

The New York Knicks essentially tanked multiple seasons in order to put together the poorly constructed roster that just lost 4-1 to Miami in the first round of the playoffs; instead of trying to build a competitive team from the ground up, the Knicks cleared cap space in a futile pursuit of LeBron James but after James predictably spurned New York the Knicks acquired two max contract players--Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony--who are not legit franchise players (Anthony has never made the All-NBA First Team, while Stoudemire earned his sole All-NBA First Team selection five years and several injuries ago). New York's overall payroll ranks sixth out of 30 NBA teams, yet all of that money has bought just a single playoff win--not a playoff series win, mind you, but merely a victory in one playoff game. That victory--obtained after Miami had already taken a commanding 3-0 series lead--ended New York's NBA record 13 game playoff losing streak that lasted for more than a decade; Anthony and Stoudemire were on the roster for seven of those losses and Anthony owns the worst individual playoff winning percentage in the past 20 years among NBA players who have participated in at least 50 playoff games. 

Three years ago in New York State of Mind, I warned that despite all of the media buzz about the Knicks the team would not become a contender unless then-Coach Mike D'Antoni emphasized the importance of defense and unless the front office seriously upgraded the talent on the roster:

The Knicks have not had a winning record since 2000-01. They have been bad for a long time and it may take a while before they are good again. No one should rush to judgment after D'Antoni's first season with the franchise but there are two interesting dynamics to watch with the Knicks, namely what roster changes new team president Donnie Walsh makes in the next year or two and whether or not D'Antoni is willing/able to coax a better defensive performance out of this team.

"Defense" may be a four letter word to D'Antoni but if the Knicks want to spell a certain 12 letter word -- "championship" -- for the first time since 1973 then defense will have to become a part of their collective vocabulary, as should be obvious by watching the teams who currently sit atop the Eastern Conference, Cleveland and defending NBA champion Boston.

A moronic member of the True Hoop Network responded to my article and simultaneously proved that he lacks (1) basic reading comprehension, (2) basic writing skills and (3) any idea of how to properly analyze basketball. I refuted his nonsense in New York State of Mind, Part II. "Stat guru" Dave Berri--who might as well be a THN member considering how often he is cited by True Hoop--then jumped into the mix, misquoting my article and citing his usual nonsensical "advanced basketball statistics" to allegedly show that the Knicks were in fact a team on the rise, an assertion that looks even more ludicrous now than it did when he first wrote it.

Kissing up to Henry Abbott may have generated page views for my antagonists but in the end all that means is that a larger audience had the opportunity to find out that those guys have no idea what they are talking about; in contrast, my predictions about the Knicks have been on the mark. Here are some of the key assertions that I have made about the New York Knicks in the past few years:

1) I pointed out that the much praised Mike D'Antoni actually posted a worse won-loss record in his first season as New York's coach than the much maligned Isiah Thomas did in his first season as New York's coach and I declared that unless D'Antoni emphasized defensive execution the Knicks would not become a legit contender.

2) I predicted that, contrary to breathless media speculation, LeBron James would not join the team that I referred to as the "Gotham Titanic":

It really looks like the Knicks are essentially tanking the 2009 and 2010 seasons in order to slash their payroll and have enough money to sign LeBron James and/or another big-time free agent--but why would an MVP-caliber player want to sign with a dysfunctional team? If there is one thing that James has learned after playing for Cleveland Coach Mike Brown it is the importance of defense--and that lesson was reinforced by James' Team USA experience when he witnessed firsthand Kobe Bryant's dedication at that end of the court.

How will the Knicks be able to justify to their fans the suffering of the 2009 and 2010 seasons if the Knicks do not sign an elite player in the summer of 2010? Moreover, even if the Knicks bring in an elite player they still would struggle to win more than 45 games without doing a major restructuring of the rest of their roster and a complete overhaul of their all-offense, no-defense/rebounding philosophy.

3) Some analysts gave the Knicks a puncher's chance to beat Boston in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, crowning the Knicks as the proverbial "team no one wants to face"--but I predicted that Boston would win and I dismissed all of the hype about the Knicks:

Has there ever been a more overhyped team than this year's New York Knicks? Yes, the Heat received too much hype but they eventually earned the second seed in the East and they are legitimate championship contenders. The Knicks have been terrible for the better part of the decade and they seemingly tanked the past couple seasons in order to free up enough cap space to sign LeBron James--who I don't believe ever had the slightest intention of going to New York--but instead they ended up with Amare Stoudemire, who teamed up down the stretch with Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to...drum roll please...lead the Knicks to 42 wins and the sixth seed in a weak Eastern Conference in which two of the playoff teams don't even have winning records. It is mindboggling that Knicks' fans are still grousing about Isiah Thomas while acting as if the current regime has somehow performed a great miracle.

4) Many people expected the Knicks to emerge as a top four Eastern Conference team in 2011-12 but I picked them to finish sixth and lose in the first round of the playoffs:

Are we past the point of blaming Isiah Thomas for everything that goes wrong in New York? For better or worse, most of the players Thomas acquired are no longer on the roster but--despite all of the breathless hype and despite two seasons of clearing cap space in a futile attempt to lure LeBron James to the Big Apple--the 2011 Knicks won exactly nine more games than the 2007 Knicks did during Thomas' first season as their coach. As much as some people rave about the Knicks you would never guess that three full seasons after Thomas' departure--and despite the additions of Anthony and Stoudemire--the Knicks improved less in four years than the starless 76ers did in one year. Much to the chagrin of some Knicks fans/"stat gurus," nearly three years ago I expressed serious skepticism about the Knicks' rebuilding plan and I remain far from convinced that the Anthony-Stoudemire duo will ever accomplish much more than provide ESPN's talking heads a lot of fodder for unfounded predictions of greatness that never quite become reality.

Yes, Chandler's defense helped a squad not previously known for playing good defense to win a title but the Mavericks have a defensive-minded coach and several other defensive-minded players (including Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion). That foundation simply does not exist in New York, so the Knicks will have trouble doing much damage in the playoffs, though I predict that for the next several years the "experts" will annually dub them the "team no one wants to face."

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:06 AM

22 comments

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22 Comments:

At Thursday, May 10, 2012 9:45:00 AM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

I think you might be overly harsh on the Knicks. They went from being a perennial lottery team to back-to-back playoff appearances and are actually starting to gain some attention from their fan base and the media.

While New York had numerous injury problems (including Amare Stoudemire the last two seasons), there's really no reason why the current roster shouldn't be able to get a top 4 seed and make the quarterfinals next season. They have developed a nice bench and it should be enough to keep Stoudemire's minutes down. If Anthony and Lin remain healthy you're probably looking at a 50-win team.

The Knicks aren't an elite team but it's not easy to become elite. In order to become a truly elite team you basically need to strike jackpot in the draft and the Knicks haven't been able to do that.

If the Knicks can become a perennial playoff team and generate a lot of revenue over the next few years most reasonable people would judge their rebuilding efforts a success.

 
At Thursday, May 10, 2012 12:01:00 PM, Anonymous Charles said...

David,

You are on point about the Knicks. They have been nothing but mediocre and their performance in the past couple of years has proved that point.

Even with the enormous hype that enveloped this team early on in the season with "Linsanity", I still don't see why so many people in the media insist on fixating so much on the Knicks' struggles and drama while simultaneously ignoring the elephant in the room. Sometimes teams struggle simply because they are not that good, not because of some obstacle that is preventing them from "figuring it out". Granted injuries have been a factor and Stoudemire in particular has seemed gimpy all season since his back injury.

As an aside, what do you think about Carmelo as a player?

Skill-set wise I see very few holes in his overall game besides his defensive effort (he can be good when he tries) and his willingness to pass. He also seems to care given the effort he put out in losing causes against the Heat. It's just that he doesn't seem to have any proper understanding of executing a disciplined gameplan on either end of the court, or what his role is besides "scoring lots of points". In this area I would say George Karl did him a disservice by encouraging the Nuggets to play "random basketball", gamble relentlessly on defense, and generally cut corners and play an unsound system.

 
At Thursday, May 10, 2012 6:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

The Knicks essentially tanked two seasons to put together a team that has won exactly one playoff game. During the same period of time, the Bulls and Thunder rebuilt their teams from the ground up by hiring great coaches and assembling complete rosters with complementary talent.

The Knicks suffered under the delusion that they could entice LeBron James to sign with them and when that did not happen they panicked and gave max money to two players who do not deserve it.

The Knicks as currently constructed are highly unlikely to earn a top four seed in the East.

Anyone who considers what the Knicks have done/are doing to be a "success" is either delusional or defines success much differently than I do.

 
At Thursday, May 10, 2012 6:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Charles:

I have written about Anthony several times; many commentators and fans consider him to be an "elite" player but I completely disagree. I define "elite" as equivalent to All-NBA First Team status: in other words, if a player is not one of the top five players in the NBA on a consistent basis then he is not "elite." Anthony is clearly an All-Star level player but he is not and has never been an "elite" player. He is an inefficient offensive player who is a capable but not always willing passer and his defensive effort is sporadic to say the least. The most disappointing thing about Anthony is that he has not significantly improved in any skill set area since he entered the NBA. LeBron James has made huge strides defensively and also improved his perimeter shot. Dirk Nowitzki improved his rebounding, defense and passing. Kobe Bryant is legendary for his work ethic and his continual improvement during his formative years. Anthony entered the NBA as a pure scorer and, several years later, that is all that he really is.

 
At Thursday, May 10, 2012 8:54:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

Bulls and Thunder struck jackpot in the lottery by drafting Rose and Durant, respectively. You can't deny that this played a big part in their attempt to become elite teams. They would not be serious championship contenders without those star players.

By the way, neither team as presently constructed has made the Finals so it's premature to call them "elite" at this time, though they have the potential to get there.

Without striking jackpot in the lottery the best you can do is do basically what Indiana, Atlanta, Utah, and Memphis have done; be a perennial playoff team and maybe advance a round or two but be left watching at home by the time the Finals start. That's pretty much the ceiling for the Knicks unless Carmelo pulls a Dirk and has a magical playoff run.

Plenty of teams have tanked a couple years and stayed bad. Knicks at least made the playoffs a couple times which is better than missing the playoffs 7 years in a row.

The Knicks are not a great team but they are above average and hardly a laughingstock.

 
At Thursday, May 10, 2012 9:03:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

I pretty much agree with your entire assessment of the knicks, but if they don't give max money to amare/melo, then where would they be? They still would be in the lottery. It's similar to johnson and the hawks.

Also, if you're thinking the knicks haven't done anything the past 2 seasons, with only 1 playoff win total, which I agree with, why did you give so much credit to Iverson with only 1 total playoff win as well while he was in denver, and iverson had better players around him? Sure, the nuggets faced 2 tough teams, but so have the knicks these past 2 playoffs, and the knicks have been devastated with injuries, too. If they're relatively healthy, I would say they would win 50 games.

 
At Thursday, May 10, 2012 9:15:00 PM, Anonymous Joel said...

David,

The hype surrounding New York has been driving me nuts for years. I remember during the first couple of weeks of last season when Amar'e was being mentioned as an MVP candidate, and I read a quote from a scout listing one of the reasons as (paraphrasing) "he's got the cab drivers talking about the Knicks again". I've always had both Carmelo and Amar'e right at the top of my "Most Overrated Player" list, and I had a similar opinion of D'Antoni as a coach.

Honestly, I don't see this roster getting much better because the two "superstars" are neither complementary (both like to massage the ball in the mid-range area, neither is much of a passer, etc) nor are they actual superstars in anything other than reputation. To make matters worse, Amar'e has lost a great deal of his explosion and his contract is pretty much untradeable.

 
At Friday, May 11, 2012 3:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

The Bulls and Thunder used their draft picks wisely and they made other intelligent personnel decisions; the Knicks chose to strip their roster bare with the express intention of signing LeBron James, even though it should have been evident that he would not sign with the Knicks. After James went to the Heat, the Knicks panicked and used their cap space to sign Amare and trade for Melo. I predicted three years ago that the Knicks' plan would not work in any respect--they would not be able to sign James and the guys that they would eventually sign in his place would not turn the team into a legit contender--and my predictions have come true.

 
At Friday, May 11, 2012 3:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

The Knicks should have spent the past several years focused on building a team instead of dreaming that they would sign James and instantly become a contender. As we have seen with Miami, even signing James plus two other top 15 players is no guarantee of championship success--and the Knicks had no plan to team James up with anyone remotely close to Wade and Bosh (which is why I knew that James would never become captain of the Gotham Titanic).

 
At Friday, May 11, 2012 6:10:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

Regarding Iverson, he helped Denver to win 50 games in the tough West for the first time in two decades; that is a lot different than a team tanking multiple seasons for the opportunity to win one playoff game. Then, when the Nuggets did the same thing with Billups we heard that Billups had supposedly "changed the culture" in Denver, a narrative that is just as incorrect as the one that suggests that the Knicks are on the right track now.

 
At Friday, May 11, 2012 11:48:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

I just don't understand what Iverson really did. While I think you are mostly correct about billups changing the culture, I can't figure out how iverson changed anything. Here's what the nuggets did right before iverson, during iverson, and then after iverson:

04: 43 wins, lost in 1st round
05: 49 wins, lost in 1st round
06: 44 wins, lost in 1st round
07: 45 wins, lost in 1st round
08: 50 wins, lost in 1st round
09: 54 wins, lost in conf. finals
10: 53 wins, lost in 1st round
11: 50 wins, lost in 1st round
12: 47 wins, ?

What exactly did Iverson do to change the culture in denver in 07 and 08? The team averaged 45 wins from 04-06 with 1st round exits, and then averaged 48 wins with 1st round exits during iverson's tenure. And denver has had more success since he left, even this year without any AS players on the roster. 49 wins in 05 to 50 wins in 08 isn't much of a change at all.

The knicks hadn't had a winning season in 10 years before melo/amare, and now have had 2. And they had only made the playoffs once since 01 before last year. The knicks are clearly still not as good as most writers think they are, but if they can remain relatively healthy next year, they will win at least 50 games. Their 36-30 record this year is equivalent to 45 wins, and they were ridiculously banged this season, even for this lockout season.

 
At Saturday, May 12, 2012 12:31:00 AM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

Who could have the Knicks signed or traded for to make them a legitimate contender? Anthony, Paul, and Howard are the only names that come to mind and Knicks would've had to acquire two of them. Clearly that would've been a longshot no matter what they tried.

Amare was a bad signing and Chandler a so-so one; those were not good decisions and will prevent the Knicks from building an elite squad for the foreseeable future. But if they had not signed Amare they would be a lottery team trying to attract Carmelo, Paul, or Howard onto their team and likely striking out on all 3. Or perhaps they would've thrown max money at Deron Williams and got the same result as New Jersey. The only other option would have been to continue to tank and hope to draft a franchise player.

Without trading for a superstar or striking jackpot in the lottery the Knicks would not be an elite team even if they rebuilt their teams from the ground up by hiring great coaches and assembling complete rosters with complementary talent. Maybe they would have become another Indiana, Atlanta, or Memphis, with a few winning seasons but no real chance of winning the championship.

 
At Sunday, May 13, 2012 8:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

You brought up Iverson, not me. This article is about the Knicks and the way that they essentially tanked multiple seasons in order to assemble a roster that has won exactly one playoff game. It is easy to search this site to find my detailed articles from a few years ago about Iverson, the Nuggets and Billups.

As for the Knicks, I don't consider it a success to tank multiple seasons and spend tens of millions of dollars on non-elite players in order to "achieve" one playoff win.

 
At Sunday, May 13, 2012 9:01:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

The Knicks' plan was not to sign Amare and/or Melo. Their plan was to sign LeBron James. I said that this would not happen and I was right. After James "took his talents to South Beach" the Knicks had a bunch of cap space and an angry fan base so they hastily decided to overpay Stoudemire even though the Suns did not want to re-sign him because of concerns about his long term health. Then the Knicks traded several solid players in order to acquire a second non-elite player, Carmelo Anthony, with the incorrect belief that Stoudemire and Anthony would form some kind of unstoppable duo.

What the Knicks should have done is build their roster from the ground up like Chicago and OKC have done. If you acquire enough talented players and/or desirable draft picks then you can draft and/or trade for a franchise player. That is a much sounder business plan than tanking multiple seasons in the vain hope that LeBron James would sign with the team and then rushing to sign Stoudemire after James spurns the team.

 
At Sunday, May 13, 2012 2:14:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

Yes, I know I brought up iverson, which I find is directly related to this article. It's a similar type of situation. You claimed that iverson brought the nuggets to new heights and was a huge factor, when in fact, nothing really supports that. They finished pretty much the same the 3 years prior to iverson as they did with iverson, and have actually improved since iverson, and we could say since melo, too, though they received 4-5 decent players in the melo trade.

But, the 11 and 12 knicks have had their first winning seasons in a decade, and they were devastated by injuries this year, and still managed to win 45 wins, equivalent to an 82-game season. This should be obvious that they are clearly improving. If they can stay relatively healthy, 50 wins should happen.

And yes, I feel the knicks shouldn't be even considered contenders in any way, but they should be better next year, and have a good chance to win at least one series. While their decision making to tank in order to get Lebron was dumb, the heat did a similar thing in dumping their entire team to acquire lebron/bosh and retain wade, they're in a much better situation than they were before. They have a solid frontline and decent role players, just need to find a PG and another player or 2. I can't see them winning a title, but very few teams even have a chance to win a title. The lakers have a top 5, top 10-15, and a top 20-30 player, and have virtually no chance to win a title.

 
At Sunday, May 13, 2012 2:27:00 PM, Blogger Matt said...

So then, the problem wasn't so much the tanking as it was the bad signings. Shoulda just kept on tanking.

 
At Sunday, May 13, 2012 5:10:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

I think you hit on a point when you said the Knicks were trying to satisfy an angry fan base. From a financial and business point of view it does make sense because obtaining Amare and Carmelo have gotten them a lot of media attention and resulted in back-to-back playoff appearances.

They're a mediocre team as currently constructed but they're at least entertaining and mediocre at the same time.

Doing things the "right" way would have resulted in a team like Indiana, Atlanta, or Memphis at best and would have resulted in a disgruntled fan base, no media attention, and overpaid middling players. Portland also tried that strategy and this resulted in a good-but-not-great team that eventually imploded because they were forced to pay their good-but-not-great players max contracts. That will kill a franchise just as easily as doing what the Knicks did.

At the end of the day you have to either sign or trade for a guy like Lebron or draft a stud in order to become an elite team.

 
At Monday, May 14, 2012 1:42:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

Iverson has nothing whatsoever to do with this article. He is not directly or indirectly mentioned even once. The Knicks essentially tanked multiple seasons and then spent max money on three players to build a squad that so far has won exactly one playoff game. Iverson played at a high level during his brief time in Denver but then Billups arrived, several West teams fell off for various reasons and the Nuggets advanced out of the first round even though they essentially posted the same regular season record that they did when Iverson was there; some people asserted that Billups had "changed the culture" and I disagreed. End of story. If you want more details, search this site's archives for Billups/Iverson. Further comments in this thread about subjects unrelated to this article will not be published.

 
At Monday, May 14, 2012 1:44:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Matt:

I am philosophically opposed to tanking and I am definitely opposed to teams charging full ticket prices while doing so. Just to be clear, I am not saying that the Knicks' players and coaches were not trying but rather that management was essentially tanking by not even trying to put a competitive product on the court; they put all of their eggs in the LeBron James basket and then panicked when they could not sign him. Instead of doing what they did they should have actually tried to build a complete roster like Chicago and OKC did during the same time period.

 
At Monday, May 14, 2012 1:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

Do you find it entertaining to watch Melo and Amare take turns playing isolation ball for a team that is barely above .500? The Knicks are almost unwatchable to anyone who actually likes basketball being played the right way. Whatever media buzz the Knicks initially got for making those trades/signings will be overwhelmed at some point by a backlash for the team's failure to actually accomplish anything of substance.

It is hilarious to read how Knickerblogger and Berri responded to me three years ago and see just how far off the mark those guys are. The Knicks are who I said they were and my critics are also who I said they were: clueless.

 
At Monday, May 14, 2012 9:59:00 AM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

While I disagree with the Knicks' personnel moves I do understand why they made them and it will benefit them over the short run financially, if not in W-L records.

The Knicks are entertaining at times - not when they emulate Miami's "clown car offense", but the times when the bench goes off, everyone gets involved, and Jeremy Lin is running a layup drill. They had 10 double-digit wins in their last 24 games - almost as many double-digit wins as the Lakers (11) over the entire season! The Knicks were maddeningly inconsistent but had games where they looked absolutely brilliant.

The Knicks will flame out in a couple of years but hopefully they will go out with a bang instead of settling for a handful of 35-50 win seasons with several no-name players.

As for playing and building the teams the "right way", it always seems to have the same result - unless you get a legit franchise player, the team tops off at ~50 wins or so and ends up overpaying for good-but-not players like Johnson (Atlanta), Roy and Aldridge (Portland), Iguodala and Brand (Philadelphia), and Gay (soon to be joined by Gasol) (Memphis).

If Chicago and Oklahoma City hadn't drafted Rose and Durant, respectively, both teams probably would be stuck overpaying guys like Deng, Noah, Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka, with no real way of getting past the 50-win hurdle.

 
At Monday, May 14, 2012 5:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

The Knicks' plan was predictably flawed, as I pointed out three years ago.

Who cares how many blowout wins the Knicks had in a truncated lockout season? That is irrelevant.

The Hawks certainly do not play the right way and they do not consistently have a high effort level. We do not yet know what the ceiling is for the young Philly and Memphis teams. Injuries ruined Portland and that is a risk that every team faces.

Rose and Durant are clearly blue chip players but the Bulls and Thunder also drafted/traded for several key rotation players who were underrated and those players are critically important to their respective squads. The Knicks have done a very poor job both in selecting who should receive max money and who should fill out the rotation.

 

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