Wall Street vs. Main Street
January 14, 2012 Leave a comment
Tonight the Knicks and their bloated, misspent payroll come stumbling into Oklahoma City one gave above mediocrity, despite having played one of the league’s easiest schedules thus far. They will face a young, sleek Oklahoma City squad that has burst out to a 10-2 record, despite the media-created drama surrounding their star players, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. However, in many ways this game feels like an allegory for the Main Street vs. Wall Street/Red State vs. Blue State/’Muurka v. America/Live within your means vs. Get Rich Quick divide that has been going on over the past few years. A player-by-player look at how these rosters were constructed paints a clear picture of the philosophies of each front office and their relative success. Unfortunately, it looks like the Bockers will stagnate, having been locked into their current mediocre roster, while the Thunder will continue to grow and compete at the highest level.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Carmelo Anthony – Traded from Nuggets for Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Eddy Curry (to T-Wolves), Anthony Randolph (to T-Wolves), 2012 1st rounder, 2013 2nd rounder, 2014 1st rounder. The only player from this trade that is also still on the Knicks’ roster is Renaldo Balkman. Signed 3 year/$64M extension that runs through 2015.
Amar’e Stoudemire – Signed as Free Agent for 5 years/$100M in 2010
Tyson Chandler – Signed as Free Agent for 4 years/$56M in 2011. Knicks had to use their one-time amnesty provision to clear Chauncey Billups’ valuable expiring contract to make room under the cap.
Landry Fields – Drafted in the 2nd round (39th pick) of the 2010 NBA draft.
Iman Shumpert – Drafted in the 1st round (17th pick) of the 2011 NBA draft.
Toney Douglas – Drafted by the Lakers in the 1st round (29th pick) of the 2009 draft. Traded to the Knicks for cash and a 2011 2nd round pick.
Mike Bibby- Signed as Free Agent for veteran’s minimum in 2011
Bill Walker – Traded from Celtics (with Eddie House and JR Giddens) for Marcus Landry and Nate Robinson.
Jared Jeffries – Originally signed for the full mid-level exception (5 years/$30M) in 2006. His salary was dumped on the Houston Rockets in 2010 in anticipation of Lebronapalooza, along with Jordan Hill and the Knicks’ 2012 first rounder. Funny aside, I remember being EXTREMELY excited for Sergio Rodriguez (a.k.a. Spanish Chocolate); Rodriguez was out of the league after that season. 372 days later, the Rockets wised up and cut Jeffries, and he is now on his second veteran’s minimum contract with the Knicks.
Renaldo Balkman – Found his way back onto the roster with the Melo trade, as mentioned above.
Josh Harrellson – Drafted by the Hornets in the 2nd round (45th pick) of the 2011 NBA Draft. The Knicks bought his draft rights for straight cash, homey.
Baron Davis- Signed for the veteran’s minimum after being amnestied by the Cavs and losing his endorsement deals with Crisco, Hardee’s, and Double-Stuf Oreos.
Jerome Jordan – Drafted by the Bucks in the 2nd round (44th pick) of the 2010 NBA Draft. The Knicks bought his draft rights for cash.
Steve Novak – Claimed off waivers on 12/21/2011 after being waived by the Spurs.
Jeremy Lin – Signed with Knicks as an SAT tutor after being waived by the Rockets.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Kevin Durant – Drafted in the 1st round (2nd pick) of the 2007 NBA draft.
Russell Westbrook – Drafted in the 1st round (4th pick) of the 2008 NBA draft.
James Harden – Drafted in the 1st round (3rd pick) of the 2009 NBA draft.
Serge Ibaka – Drafted in the 1st round (24th pick) of the 2008 NBA draft. Pick was acquired when Suns traded Kurt Thomas and a 2008 and 2010 first round pick to the Thunder (then Sonics) for a 2009 2nd round pick.
Kendrick Perkins – Traded from the Celtics for Jeff Green, Nate Robinson, Nenad Krstic, and a 2012 first round pick. Perkins then signed a 4 year/$35M extension.
Eric Maynor – Traded from the Jazz for Peter Fehse. This was a trade that Utah made only to get under the luxury tax threshold. They had drafted Maynor with the 20th overall pick only 6 months earlier.
Thabo Sefolosha – Trade from the Bulls for a 2009 first rounder (Taj Gibson).
Nick Collison – Drafted in the 1st round (12th pick) of the 2003 NBA draft. The Thunder then pulled a genius move, signing him to an extremely frontloaded extension that paid him $13M in the 2010-2011 season, then descending from $3.2M to $2.2 between the 2011-2012 season and the 2014-2015 season. At the time of the extension, the Thunder were under the cap and had the room to give Collison what essentially amounted to a signing bonus, without paying the luxury tax or sacrificing future flexibility.
Daequan Cook – Traded from the Heat along with a 2010 first rounder for a 2010 second round pick.
Nazr Mohammed – Traded from the Bobcats for Mo Peterson and D.J. White
Reggie Jackson – Drafted in the first round (24th pick) of the 2011 NBA draft.
Royal Ivey – Signed as a Free Agent in 2010 for about 2 years/$2M.
Cole Aldrich -Drafted by the Hornets in the 1st round (11th pick) of the 2010 NBA Draft. His draft rights were traded to the Thunder along with Morris Peterson for Craig Brackins and Quincy Pondexter.
Lazar Hayward – Traded from the T-Wolves for two 2nd round picks.
Oklahoma City’s team is the result of patient, shrewd management that understands that sometimes its advisable to lose in the short run because good things will happen if you are smart and work hard. The Thunder’s big 3 of Durant, Westbrook and Harden were all the result of savvy picks early in the lottery. It’s no surprise that most teams find their franchise players through the lottery (Rose, Howard, Kobe, Dirk, etc.), not free agency or trades. Probably not by coincidence, the Knicks have not had a pick in the top 4 since they took Patrick Ewing in 1985.
There are several other important rotation players who were either drafted in the first round by the Thunder or had their draft rights acquired on the night of the draft, such as Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson and Cole Aldrich. Sam Presti and the Thunder front office has also displayed the nifty ability to pounce on other teams when their stupid decisions get them in trouble. They hijacked two first round picks from the Suns when they were too cheap to pay Kurt Thomas, turning one of them into Serge Ibaka. They nabbed a quality young point guard , Eric Maynor, when the Jazz were freaking out about paying the luxury tax and snagged a dead-eye shooter, Daequan Cook, when the Heat were clearing deck chairs and buying dry ice so they could celebrate winning free agency. Perhaps most telling, the only player on the entire roster who was signed as free agent is Royal Ivey, who makes $1.2M this year.
OKC has been methodical and intelligent in how they built their roster, never going for the big splash on the exterior (the Kendrick Perkins trade/extension) until a solid foundation had been built to contend for a championship. This team was a year ahead of schedule last season and appears to be a viable title contender this year, jumping out to a very hot start. More importantly, they seem primed to contend for years to come with many of the key principals locked up for the next few years. Even if things blow up with Westbrook, who is a restricted free agent this off-season, the Thunder will almost certainly figure out a way to extract value from his departure and rebuild on the fly.
A look at the Knicks’ roster reveals a strategy that is completely the opposite of the Thunder’s. After bottoming out during the Isiah era, the Knicks decided that their best bet was to try and get rich quick, razing their team to bare bones in anticipation of the 2010 free agent bonanza. When they struck out on Plans A through D, they signed Amar’e Stoudemire to a $100 million contract and inked Raymond Felton to a 2 year/$16M deal. To everyone’s surprise, the Knicks played well through the first 50 games on the 2011 regular season. They were deep at several positions, played like a team, and had a youthful hunger that Knicks fans hadn’t seen since the 90’s.
Of course, the Knicks’ front office couldn’t get out of their own way, and when Carmelo Anthony made it clear that he wanted to leave Denver to play for the Knicks, the team destroyed its present chemistry and mortgaged its future, giving up all their young players and 2 first round draft picks for Anthony. They made the deal despite having all the leverage in negotiations, as Carmelo had said he only wanted to play for the Knicks and was going to be a free agent 3o games later. Showing a profound lack of patience and deep misunderstanding of the concept of power in negotiations, the Knicks acquiesced to whatever demands the Nuggets made and got their man.
But 2 players would not cut it. The Knicks had to keep up with the Joneses (aka the Heat and Celtics) and, on the strength of a wedding toast, decided they needed to get Chris Paul. When it became abundantly clear that they had no chance of landing the star floor general, the Knicks reacted to the closest bright stimulus, signing Tyson Chandler. In order to do so, they had to cut their only viable point guard, veteran Chaucey Billups. Worse still, Billups alsoo had a large expiring contract that would have been a valuable trade chip in any move the Knicks might make during the season and New York had to use its get-out-of-jail-free amnesty provision even though they have about $83M in uninsurable microfracture knees on their cap between now and 2015.
Having committed this much money to shiny new toys, the Knicks have had to round out their roster with non-lottery first rounders (Shumpert, Douglas), trade filler (Walker, Balkman), 2nd rounders (Fields, Jorts, Jordan), veteran re-treads (Jeffries, Bibby, Davis), and other teams’ roster detritus (Lin, Novak). Essentially, the Knicks decided to buy 3 golden toilets before the concrete had even been poured, figuring that once the toilets were bought the best masons and carpenters would flock to build the rest of the house. While that might work in a sport like baseball where the rich can outspend the competition, it doesn’t work that way in basketball. The only players who take drastic paycuts to chase rings with big stars are washed up veterans who can’t contribute like they once did. Smart teams fill in their rosters with the other type of cheap NBA asset: young players who they acquire through the draft and who can improve over time.
Worse still, is it is easy to question whether the motives of the players who choose the Knicks are purely basketball related. At times it feels like Amar’e is more interested in being near the epicenter of the fashion world than he does in learning defensive rotations. Carmelo famously singled out New York as his destination of choice because his wife, Lala Vazquez, couldn’t properly pursue her career as a reality television star in Denver. Only after the fact was the contrived story that Anthony was from New York (as far as I knew, he was a Baltimore kid) shoved down our throat. Conversely, Kevin Durant announced his contract extension quietly via twitter and got his ass back in the gym to hone his game. He cares so little about fashion, his press conference choices make it look like he hasn’t changed his wardrobe tastes since 4th grade. All he seems concerned with is raining down jumpers in the opposition’s eye.
The most frustrating part of his whole comparison is that it is the result of the patronizing old yarn that “there is no rebuilding in New York” because New Yorkers demand winners. When paired with the equally untrue theory that New York fans are the smartest most knowledgeable fans in the world, there is a logical disconnect. Any smart basketball fan (and there are plenty in New York, but no more than anywhere else) knows the best way to win championships is to bottom out, get lucky in the lottery, and build soundly and intelligently around the franchise player you land in the draft. The Knicks’ strategy was doomed from the start and most savvy fans knew it the second the Melo trade went down. We’ll see a parade down Main Street before we see one down Broadway, and that’s because the fans and the front office wanted to get rich quick rather than doing it the right way.