Thursday, March 1, 2007

First Half Review: The Glancing Shot to the Groin Epoch

A little bit tardy, The Bounce would now like to look back at the first half of the Knicks 2006-2007 season. This year, a handful Isiah-defending columnists have expressed optimisim about the Knicks. The majority, though, have described the Knicks season as a "roller coaster," which implies that there have been a lot of exciting ups and downs and that this season has been a briefly frightening but otherwise fun time.

To sum up, I was going to go with the Polonium 210 as an appropriate delayed-pain metaphor. Unfortunately, I saw a really funny Polonium 210 bit on The Daily Show the other night -- so, forgive the sophomoric thesis. This season hasn't been a "roller coaster." On closer inspection, this season's been like a glancing shot to the testicular region: not terribly painful at first, but soon followed by an incredibly painful, lower-stomach, retching sensation that lasts hours at a time. In fact, that slow-death-from-the-inside-out idea pretty much describes the typical Knicks fan's plight.

But let's look at the positives. The Knicks are only a few games out of the playoffs. Eddy Curry – who is, for better or worse, the franchise – has averaged 19 points and 7 boards a game on nearly sixty percent shooting. David Lee seems to be a shoe-in for the Sixth Man of the Year award. Even Jerome James is contributing to the starting lineup, albeit for only the first two minutes of the game, after which he requires intravenous fluids, a cold compress on the forehead and a ruben from Arbys.

We here at The Bounce would be remiss if we didn't delve a little deeper into the first season of the post-Larry Brown Era (Season Three of Isiah's reign). The day after a shockingly bad loss to the Boston Odens we here at The Bounce would like to offer up Part I of a two-part review of each current Knick player's first half of the season. Today, I'll take a look at the Forwards/Centers. Some time soon El Guapo will handle the guards.

Forwards & Centers

Eddy Curry:
Among the rabidly anti-Isiah community of Knicks fans and NBA commentators, no one has ever argued that Eddy Curry isn't talented. But he's the linchpin to the Glancing Shot to the Groin Epoch, by which our basketball team's fortunes are dictated. As Eddy goes, so go the Knicks. Unfortunately, this means that our offense is tied to an unproven scorer with literally FOUR FEET of range.

Look, the entire offense is run through and dominated by Curry. Which would fine, except Curry can't pass, he's a turnover waiting to happen and the only plays that seem to consistently work with Eddy is a high screen and roll, where he gets the pass while rolling to the hoop, or when he gets the ball four feet from the hoop. Sure, some of the offensive stats are there, but this is the NBA. Eddy's 19 points per game are EXTREMELY deceptive. Don't be fooled. Remember, this is a league where Tony Delk, Terry Cummings, Cedric Ceballos and freaking Willie Burton all have scored 50 or more points points in a game.

Take a glance at Eddy's other stats. He's averaging almost 3.5 turnovers, less than one assist, less than one block and less than one steal per game. As a result, Yahoo's fantasy folks have established The Eddy Curry Line, which is a ratio of Turnovers / Assists + Blocks + Steals. For the record, Eddy's "Eddy Curry Line" is 1.9, pretty much the worst in the NBA. To put it simply: He averages 1.9 turnovers for every assist, block, and steal COMBINED. His assist to turnover ratio, is .23 and he has the third most turnovers in the NBA.

Look, Eddy Curry will be 25 next year. Would you swap two draft picks for Shaq at 25? Of course. Shaw is a once-in-a-generation talent. Would you swap those picks (knowing that a post age-limit draft featuring Oden and Durant was two years away) for someone who'd been in the NBA for four years and had never averaged over 15 points per game? Would you want a franchise player who the coach wasn't confident enough in to play in a recent fourth quarter, as's Chris Sheridan explained last week?

"If Curry was really worth all those draft picks that you sent to Chicago, as Isiah keeps insisting, how on earth is he not even letting him off the bench when his team needs a bucket like humans need oxygen?""

Channing Frye:
Jay Bilas, you amazing bastard! Your "Does he have a position?" cries during each of the last few NBA drafts have proven true in Frye's case, thanks to Isiah's odd roster choices. After a first season that was, frankly, exciting, last year was written off as Frye's "Lost Season." Now, due to an offense that runs through a player who can't pass and can't shoot outside of the charge circle, you are proven right, Mr. Bilas! Frye officially doesn't have a position on this Knicks team. In a sane world, Frye would be a kick-out option when Curry gets double teamed, even getting plays called for him directly. In Isiah Thomas' world, though, it's better to play Lee, Jeffries and Curry on the front line, which if you haven't noticed, might be the worst shooting front line the history of the NBA. Here is something I firmly believe: Lee, Jeffries and Curry couldn't beat Michael Clarke Duncan, Chris Tucker and Nelly in a game of HORSE. If you saw the Celebrity All-Star Game in Vegas, you'd understand how shockingly bad this statement is for Knicks fans.

Renaldo Balkman:
All Knicks fans can remember where they were when Balkman was drafted. There was that initial excitement, the thought that maybe the Knicks had stumbled upon some hidden raw talent by combing the streetball courts of America's inner cities, kind of like Nolte finding Shaq in Blue Chips. Then the effects of the Glancing Shot to the Groin Epoch set in.

There's the shock. The disbelief. The shouting. The feeling of inevitability, as if you kinda knew something like this would happen. Then, if you were watching at the time, you had to watch Greg Anthony rip the pick and Stephen Smith actually look speechless for a milisecond (which must have briefly thrown the Earth of its axis).

On a team with no true point guard, we passed on the best point guard in the draft. I've examined the logic here, which basically amounts to "We Have Nate Robinson and Steve Francis! There's no room for anyone else. Our guards are too good!" Or the "What the Knicks Need are Hustle/Defensive/Glue Guys, not Scorers" school of thought, which is asinine because it assumes that the Knicks were just a few pieces away from contention or even near to playoff success. And it ignores the reality that Balkman could have been drafted in the second round or signed as free agent. Really, the shock/lower groin pain/death-from-the-inside sensation hasn't subsided for Knicks fans. In the end, the Balkman pick was all about self-preservation on Isiah's part, which I'll get into.

Malik Rose:
Strangely, Rose actually has a semi-surprising jumper. He also got the start over Jerome James in this week's game versus the Celtics. He played with Tim Duncan. He seems like a nice guy. Really, what can you say about Malik Rose's presence on the Knicks? That I'd rather have an expiring deal then a useless bench player? Well, that's obvious.

David Lee:
When David Lee is the young player you brag about after three years of rebuilding, then you're getting into the type of perennial low expectations normally reserved for the new Guns N' Roses album or for the Clippers. That's not a knock against Lee, who's been an absolute steal and is basically just refreshing as hell to watch.

A few things worry me about D-Lee. First, his rebound numbers are off the charts, but David Lee isn't your prototypical rebound machine a la Dawkins, Rodman and Howard. I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that Lee gets most of his rebounds on broken plays, off long-ish rebounds and from sheer hustle. In a different offense, could Lee match these rebound totals? And, second, he's got a good slashing game, but he's an offensive liability without the ability to shoot from at least ten feet away. Again, Curry's limitations really hurt us here.

Kelvin Cato:
Hmm, what to say here? That he's a Glue guy? He's great in the locker room? Also, great on the team bus and charter flights? In hotel lobbies on the road, this guy's great? When you share a cab with a guy like this, you know why he's on the team? He's great at PR events involving players reading from children's books or handing out wrapped presents purchased by team interns? He's there to groom the young guys? I mean, to actually groom them? Like with an expensive brush and an emery board?

Jarred Jeffries:
At the time of this signing, we had Jalen Rose, Quentin Richardson as legitimate small forwards. Then, we had a glut of guys who could play either SF or PF like Frye and Lee, both of whom would be ill-suited to play SF in the small-ball NBA era. We had Balkman as a defense/energy guy, but he can't shoot either. Rose was likely to be traded and Quentin Richardson was VERY undersized to play small forward. Knowing Rose was gone, we had ONLY Richardson as a SF option with a jumpshot. Think about that for a second.

To get some shooting presence at SF we were left with Frye playing out of position on the wing (a defensive liability) or we had to play Richardson at SF. This was the reality going into the Jared Jeffries signing.

So, that's why it made so much sense to sign another small forward who can't shoot under the shoddy pretense that he will help us defensively! Now, we're on the hook with Jeffries for four years at $5.2 million, $5.6 million, $6 million, and $.6.6 million per respectively. (For some perspective, Crawford makes $7 million). This is another example of a GM operating in Self-Preservation Mode ( I'll get to this, believe me).

Jalen Rose, Maurice Taylor and The Departed:
Here's how a GM operates when he's in Self-Preservation Mode, namely one who's paying nearly $60 million in luxury taxes, is still paying Shandon Anderson ($8.5 million), Jerome Williams ($6.4 million) and Alan Houston ($20.7 millon), and has expiring contracts to work with: he throws them in the trash to save a few million dollars in luxury tax. Or better yet, he throws them away to save his own hide. This is the crux of GM Self-Preservation Mode -- sacrifice tomorrow for a few more wins today (note to GMs using this approach, fans don't forget, but your future employers likely will).

As Simmons noted in his trade deadline review, the Knicks could have used Rose and Taylor's contracts as bargaining chips (not sure why he didn't mention the Knicks entering the Gasol sweepstakes with these assets, but I'll get to this). But, Isiah's back was against the wall. He is a GM in full-on Self-Preservation Mode. He'd been given a 1-year ultimatum. He drafted Balkman to help the team "win now." He threw money at Jared Jeffries in a desperate attempt to shore up his roster.

And, likely to keep his boss off his back about the luxury tax, Isiah Thomas said, "I can't wait until February. Jalen Rose and Maurice Taylor are preventing my chances from winning 35 games NOW!" So, he bought out their contracts out and sent them packing, realizing that a bad record by the All-Star break could doom his chances to ever get an NBA job again.

Here's the thing, are Rose and Taylor's expiring contracts, more valuable than Kelvin Cato and Malik Rose? That's the whole issue. You sit Jalen on the bench for a few months and you trade him. You're telling me Memphis wouldn't have listened to a deal involving Rose and Taylor's expiring deals, Lee and/or Frye, Robinson and/or the Knicks #1 this year for Gasol? Think about the prospect of Gasol, Curry, Marbury and Crawford/Richardson. That's a legitmate contender in the East.

Simmons brings up a good point about Isiah's huge mistake in jettisoning these assets. But was this his dumbest decision? They've pretty much all been dumb. Whether its over-paying for a redundant player like Jeffries, discarding expiring contracts, drafting a questionable (and equally redundant) "glue" player like Balkman who could have been had as a free agent, Isiah's desperately trying to win now at all costs. Too bad he's about two years too early to even worry about winning. Maybe Dolan has nixed any more roster moves, but Isiah's been cornered. He's not thinking about anything beyond this year, that much is obvious.

Apologies to Simmons for the borrowed reference, but the last year or so has been Isiah putting all of his chips in the middle of the table, hoping to win a VERY small pot. All while Isiah's holding a pair of twos. Yes, I just compared the Knicks current roster to a pair of twos. How's that for optimisim?


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