Tuesday, February 28, 2006

We've All Been Wronged By Isiah

I think I’ve discovered the inherent flaw Isiah Thomas’s game plan. It is public knowledge at this point that Isiah’s M.O. is to obtain the single best player in any trade, thus building a roster filled with “assets” that can be used in the future to obtain talent that will bring the team over the top. Sounds reasonable upon first perusal, eh? Of course, when you think about it there is little practical sense in that logic, thus leading me to think that Isiah’s fatal flaw is the lack of critical thought. Then again, it was probably a foregone conclusion at this point anyway.

Isiah demonstrates a lack of critical thought even in his M.O. He wants to stockpile assets, which is considered an intelligent move. Stock and bond investors stockpile assets all the time, sometimes resulting in an attainment of wealth. However, for every wildly successful investor, there are 10 or 20 who are left in the dust. They see no return on their investments because their assets lose value. That’s the risk in obtaining stock assets: for the most part they’re volatile. Playing with large, long-term contracts in the NBA is like playing with stocks: you have to be impeccably astute in order to succeed.

Assets, however, are not limited to stocks, just as good NBA players are not limited to those with monstrous contracts. There are real estate investments, mutual funds, bonds, futures, etc. Plenty of options out there, and smart investors will diversify their portfolios in the event that one asset goes awry. Unfortunately, Isiah wishes to load his portfolio with high-risk investments that don’t have a history of paying off. Meanwhile, he’s destroying the opportunity to make a more sound investment in the draft, because his pursuit of “assets” forces him to part ways with these lesser risk endeavors.

Now we get to the meat and potatoes of this scenario. The Knicks are loaded with monstrous contracts for players who aren’t playing to the level they did when said contracts were consummated. Basically, one of the other 31 NBA teams made a poor investment. They bought high, and watched the player’s stock tumble. Seeing that there was no chance to recoup the losses, these GMs looked around the league looking for someone to take these terrible assets off their hands. Sure, in the stock market, that’s not a huge problem; you just sell off your shares and take the hit for your losses. But in the NBA, not only are you trying to rid yourself of a terrible investment, but you’re trying to do it at the original price. In essence, a team bought a stock for $40 and watched it tumble to $18, and now is trying to sell it to someone for $40. AND (there’s an “and”), they’re trying to get something of value in return. Ridiculous, right? Not for Isiah Thomas it ain’t!

In fact, much of what Isiah has traded away have been assets. In most GMs books, expiring contracts are assets. They free up cap room and give your team more maneuverability in the free agent market. Isiah doesn’t even marginally grasp this concept, as evidenced by his cap-busting trades. So now the Knicks are over the cap until 2009, with nary a high first round pick until 2008. And this is supposed to be a formula for success?

Isiah’s vision is to pool these assets together and ship them to another team for a superstar player, a la Kevin Garnett. Apparently, he believes that every other GM in basketball is a retard, and that they’d be willing to take on these terrible contracts in exchange for their best player. Perfectly logical, I know, but I just don’t see many GMs biting on this one. Then again, never underestimate Kevin McHale’s idiocy either. He may just jump on Francis and Crawford for KG. But he’s the exception, not the rule.

Seriously, though, the Knicks will have some assets in the coming years. Jalen Rose, Maurice Taylor, and Malik Rose have contracts that expire in 2007, meaning that they could be packaged together (roughly $20-25 million combined salary) as a cap-saving tandem. Should Isiah still have his position at that point (and if he hasn’t been fired by now, he probably has carte blanche until the Knicks actually start winning), he would be much inclined to trade these assets for a large, long-term contract. Instead of slicing that $20-25 million off the books, Isiah will undoubtedly swap that money for an $18 million deal that doesn’t expire until 2010, thus further busting the cap.

But wait, Joe, you don’t get it. Isiah is using these mostly worthless contracts to obtain real talent. The cap savings are useless to the Knicks, because they’re so far over the cap anyway. Yes, that’s the only counter-argument that anyone can possibly make, and it’s full of holes. Chances are, if a player is making upwards of $15-18 mil a year and a team is willing to dish them, they’re bringing some heavy baggage with them. Maybe that’s okay for a small market team. Coming to New York with baggage is a sure sign of impending doom (and this goes for any sport).

The kicker here is that the only value most of the Knicks players carry is cap savings in the last year of their deal. No one is going to trade for Steve Francis before the last year of his deal, because no one wants to add a disproportional amount of payroll for a mediocre player. Yes, it pains me to say it because I enjoyed him at Maryland, but Steve Francis has recessed into mediocrity. And Isiah traded $15 million in cap savings for him. Freakin’ wonderful.

What Isiah has set in motion here is a relentless and ostensibly never ending cycle. Obtain huge contracts, trade huge contracts for even bigger, longer term contracts, hoping that one day you’ll stockpile so many assets that a championship team is unavoidable. That’s laughable, quite frankly. I don’t think any team in any sport can win a championship that way. Yet, it appears this is the Knicks full intention.

Perhaps of the greatest detriment to this scheme is Nate Dogg Robinson, my favorite rookie in the new class. As a rookie, he has put up numbers similar to those of Jamal Crawford, and only looks to be improving. Plus, his height should have him slated as a point guard, and the Knicks have a coach who is known for making great point guards (and who was a ridiculous waste of money). I wasn’t a math major by any stretch of the imagination, but I can put two and two together. Unfortunately, Larry Brown has something against rookies, so Nate isn’t getting the training he so deserves (though I can’t speak for what goes on during practices. Who knows; maybe Nate is going to be Larry’s secret weapon next year.)

Following the Francis trade, Robinson was immediately deactivated, seeing as the team had stockpiled so many guard assets. I mean, why would you play a promising rookie when you can give minutes to Stephon Marbury, Francis, Jamal Crawford, Jalen Rose, and Quentin Richardson? Flawless logic, right? And because Nate is so seemingly expendable, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to see him involved in a sign and trade this summer that nets the Knicks more crap that won’t expire until 2012.

You’d think that after 1,200 words, I’d be done ranting about Isiah, right? Oh, hell no. I’m letting all the beef fly right now. The more I think about this cap situation, the angrier I get. I get angry because I vividly remember going to the gym with my buddy Andy this summer every day after work and shooting the shit about New York sports. Obviously, the main topic was the Yankees, but there were so many losing streaks that we needed something else to talk about, lest the Bombers make us go haywire.

Our non-Yanks topic was mainly the Knicks, seeing as I’m Jets fan and he’s a Dolphins fan. I remember being slightly optimistic following the draft, since I felt that the Knicks best optimized the talent available to them when they picked. Sure, Danny Granger or Gerald Green would have been nice, but Channing Frye filled a more immediate need. I even came close to singing a praise for Isiah. But so much else went wrong.

The first thing that pissed me off was the Kurt Thomas-Quentin Richardson trade (though it did net us Nate Dogg). It wasn’t only that the Knicks were dishing one of the only players on the team who could step up on D (though that was a large part of it). It was that Kurt Thomas had a contract so large that it had to be traded. Thomas’s contract was set to expire after the ‘04-’05 season, but Isiah thought it necessary to extent said contract in March of ’04. Four years, $30 mil, which averages out to $7 mil and change per season for a 31-year-old. Of course, Isiah realized his foolishness and traded Thomas the VERY NEXT YEAR for a player with a back so bad, no company would insure his contract. So we’re stuck with Q because Thomas made a poor decision in extending Thomas.

Remember Nazr Mohammed? Yeah, I kinda liked that guy. He wasn’t a stellar center, but he was a decent stopgap until the team could acquire the right guy. And to boot, his contract expires following this season. But Isiah felt it necessary to dish Mohammed and his reasonable contract ($5 million per) to San Antonio for Malik Rose, whose deal has more money and en extra year. True, it netted us David Lee (and an additional No. 30 pick this year), but the move was utterly pointless. Isiah traded the team’s only center for an undersized, overpaid power forward. Bonus.

I’ll touch on one more deal before I get to quite possibly the worst moves in GM history. Back at last year’s trade deadline, Thomas swapped Vin Baker’s contract out for Maurice Taylor. I’d dig into this deeper, but it’s basically the same idea s Mohammed, though I was much happier to be rid of Baker. But, his mid-level contract would have expired following this season, while Taylor’s above mid-level contract expires in 2007. Just another example of Isiah’s complete lack of foresight.

Now we get to the 2005 off-season. Isiah’s first mistake was signing Jerome James to the mid-level exception. This exception is granted to teams over the salary cap so that they can continue to improve their teams via free agency. Unforunately, in the past two years the exception has been used on Vin Baker and Jerome James, two centers who don’t deserve anything more than the league minimum. But Isiah jumped on James anyway, rewarding his two good playoff games with a 5-year, $30 million contract. Sure, it’s mid-level, but it doesn’t expire until 2010. I don’t know how many of you play NBA Live, but if you do, you understand the plight involved with this cap buster. Do you know how crippling it is to have a bench player eating up $6 million of your $50 million cap? That’s more than 1/10 of the salary cap allotted to a guy who MAYBE plays 12 minutes a game. Absolutely appalling.

But then, after he blew valuable cap space on a do-nothing center, Isiah struck again. The man has no limits. He would never say “well, I committed dollars and cap space to Jerome James, so signing another center just doesn’t make sense.” Why would he say that? That doesn’t net him “assets.” So when Eddie Curry refused to take a DNA test, Chicago was desperate to sell. And Isiah is always desperate to buy. Advantage, Bulls. $10 million a year through 2009? Not a big deal to Isiah and Co. I mean, when you can obtain an out of shape center who can’t play defense and pay him $10 million a year, you do it every time. Especially if you’re dishing one of your only remaining defensive players (Michael Sweetney), an expiring contract (Tim Thomas, though they got Antonio Davis’s expiring deal as compensation), and two lotto picks.

So what exactly has Isiah strapped the Knicks with? For starters, how about two non-performing, cap-busting centers? How about the highest paid, lowest producing backcourt in the NBA? How about a flurry of contracts that don’t expire until 2009? I don’t know what your plans are for 2009, but I frankly don’t have a clue where I’ll be at that point. Apparently Isiah does.

The saddest part of all is that I still care. I still try to watch the Knicks, but like last night against the Spurs, I am always inclined to turn it off somewhere around halftime. I don’t know why I care. The NBA isn’t as interesting as it once was. But it’s still basketball, dammit, and I can’t just go abandoning the Knicks because they suck. That’s rather fair weather, isn’t it? So instead I stick by my team and watch as some incompetent loon runs them into the ground. And the owner is actually financing all of this!

You know what? Screw Isiah. Fire Dolan.