The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Be Careful What You Wish For

I was going to write some sort of giant 2-part Knicks and Nets in free agency post, but between being distracted by real life and other sports I realized I really only had a few things to say about this, and they’re pretty general:

More importantly than anything else, both the Knicks and the Nets have to be sure of any contracts they sign and any players they acquire. If you can get one of the big two and a half (LBJ, Wade, Bosh), you do it at any asked-for price; if you can’t, then you need to be sure of every aspect of the deal. The worst thing any of the big players in free agency can do is panic if their wooing of the big names goes wrong and throw stupid money after second and third tier players. A guy like Joe Johnson or Carlos Boozer can be very effective and valuable in the right spot on the right team, chiefly as the third best player on a real title contender where their skills compliment the big dogs on the team. But if you’re paying max money to either guy to be the centerpiece of the team you’re building for the next 5 or 6 years, as they age into their 30’s and a new CBA changes the financial landscape in unpredictable ways, you’re essentially spending huge amounts of money to gamble on a bet whose payoff- if everything goes right- is to lose in the second or third round of the playoffs. It’s a fool’s bargain.

The intelligent way to build a team is what’s been done in Portland and Oklahoma City, using the draft and building a core; the Nets can still do that, the Knicks probably can’t in the short term, but even if that chance is gone it’s not an excuse to lock yourself into mediocrity with contracts which will keep you in 35-47 hell until well past when you could have started rebuilding through the draft if you weren’t a mediocre late-lottery team. For the Knicks, that mark is 2013 as I understand it- they owe 2012 and a swap on 2011 to Houston, but after that they’ll finally, finally have their own picks back. So this is the question for them to ask: is what you could get right now on the market, taking into account cost, contract length, new CBA salary cap effects and other considerations going to A) have you closer to a title in, say, 2016 than the draft would, and B) will you make more or less money over that span by paying a ton for second-order free agents and losing in the first or second round, or by running a bare-bones team and then paying draft picks? If what you get now is LeBrosh this is a no-brainer; if what you get now is Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire and spare parts I think it’s also a no-brainer, the other way. I strongly doubt Knicks management sees it this way; time will tell. What scares me is that I don’t think the Knicks really care about going for a title, to be honest; I think they’re comfortable running the con of an “exciting, up tempo” loser so long as it keeps the Garden full.

For the Nets, it’s a bit more complicated. The LeBrosh home run option is still an easy yes, but I’m not sure it makes all that much sense for them to dip into the free agent market for a forward given the presence of Derrick Favors, who as of now is the only Net with what you might call breakout centerpiece potential. I like David Lee as a player for instance, but I don’t see the angle on paying him to play while Favors sits on the bench- especially considering that, let’s be honest, the next two years which will be taken up by Favors learning the NBA are already essentially wasted years for the franchise while they’re stuck in Newark, waiting on construction. They’ve already got a more or less competent deputy in Kris Humphries to help eat minutes at the 4. You can argue that adding a Lee or a Stoudemire potentially gives the Nets either a devastating 3-big rotation or makes Favors a useful trade chip, but I’m far from convinced on that one- the Nets need a breakout player, and as good as Lee is he’s never going to be that guy. Maybe Favors won’t either, but it makes sense to invest the time to find out.

If they can’t hit the lottery (again), the Nets’ best play is probably a limited grab for a wing player- someone who can hit kick out threes and do some ball-handling. Not that I expect this to happen, but I can see Joe Johnson as a potential fit here, actually- he does these jobs in Atlanta, and since I suspect the Nets are going to have to dump Devin Harris upcoming (ball-dominant dribble-drive point guard on a team organized around two bigs? No buys) he can act as partial insurance on that trade, whenever it happens. Prokhorov seems to want to get the team into the playoffs next year; Johnson + a healthier Harris + Lopez + some maturation and contribution from the younger players on the team + one or two tertiary or quaternary free agents to fill out the roster probably does it. It’s not the way I’d go (I’d rather see the team spend one more years sucking for draft purposes), but I understand where he’s coming from. As an addendum, I’d be hesitant about Rudy Gay here- yes he’s younger, but he’s a restricted free agent with a head case rep and questionable performance. He’s plateaued in the land of just-above-average offensively in recent years (PER: 17.34, 15.38, 16.30 in that order) and his defense is blah.

Bottom line for both teams- and the whole league really- is to recognize that team improvement is not a linear process in a salary capped sport, especially one like the NBA where players are clearly slotted into certain positions and figures. 90% of the work consists in finding one of the very, very few players in each generation who are what you might call legitimate max players- guys who can be the best player on a title winning team. There’s always quibbling about who exactly falls into this category, but I think everyone can agree that there’s two players in it in this free agency class: LeBron and Wade. Wade is 99% certain to stay in Miami; LeBron is the dream. If a team can’t get him however their focus- if they want to win a title- has to be on acquiring one way or another the sort of player who can fill this role. Joe Johnson will not do it, Carlos Boozer will not do it, Amare Stoudemire will not do it, Chris Bosh is an argument but in most people’s eyes will not do it, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce through a combination of age and other factors will not do it. If a team is signing players like that, they should either have a player who fills the main slot already (like Miami, maybe Chicago, and on a long shot the Nets) or they should have a realistic plan in place to acquire a player like that. Otherwise all a team does is lock itself intot he hopeless middle of the NBA where teams perpetually finish too high to get a decent draft pick and too low to be real contenders. That’s the worst fate for the NBA team and it’s a sure bet that at least one team and maybe several is going to condemn themselves to it this offseason. Here’s hoping it’s not one of the locals.

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June 30, 2010 - Posted by | Other NBA, The Nets, The NY Knicks

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