Bad Planning Costs The Knicks

Any fan of the New York Knicks has inevitably wrestled internally with inescapable truth that owner James Dolan is controlling the team, for better or for worse. Whether this resigns the Knicks to perpetual mediocrity is debatable, but disapproval of Dolan’s reign atop the franchise has been harsh and frequent.

Of all the criticism Knicks fans have given Dolan, the one thing you can’t say about the owner is that he’s afraid to spend.

Perpetually over the salary cap, Dolan has exhibited a willingness to spend into the luxury cap—wherein he has to pay a penalty for player contracts that exceed the cap—in order to land his next big target. Whether he’s spending his money in the right places is the product of criticism.

After all the years that the Knicks have spent in the luxury tax from the massive contracts of underachieving players, many fans are frustrated that Dolan chose to draw a line in the sand with the Houston Rockets’ backloaded offer to Jeremy Lin, the underdog point guard who set the league on fire for 25 games last season.

However, it’s hard to blame Dolan for being unwilling to match Lin’s offer, which would reportedly cost him $43 million in the third year of the contract due to salary cap penalties, especially when he’s unsure of whether Lin’s run was an aberration or an indication of what’s to come.

What we do know is the contract Carmelo Anthony termed “ridiculous” became all the more absurd when you consider the luxury tax penalties Dolan will be paying in the third year of the contract for being over the league’s tax line.

You could argue that Dolan’s hands are tied in this case, but poor decision-making with regards to the cap has only tightened the rope around his wrists. A slew of bad management decisions ultimately cost the Knicks a chance to keep their budding star and marketing bell cow.

Though it’s still too early to criticize the max contracts of Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, the Knicks’ decision to use the amnesty clause on newly-signed Chauncey Billups is looming large with regards to cap room.

Shortly after the 2010-11 season, the Knicks were faced with the choice of whether to pick up Billups’ one-year, $13 million option for the following season. Not wanting to be left without a point guard after a lockout-shortened offseason, the team picked up his option.

But after the lockout introduced the amnesty clause, which allowed teams to take one big contract off their salary cap to save cap space, the Knicks used their amnesty on Billups in order to make room for a sign and trade for Tyson Chandler, who turned out to be last year’s Defensive Player of the Year.

While it was necessary to do so in order to acquire Chandler, the Knicks sacrificed the right to future cap flexibility by using their amnesty on Billups, whom they had just resigned by picking up his option. Had they declined his option, the team would still have the amnesty in their back pocket, available to use on a massive contract (like Stoudemire’s) to clear cap room for a player like Lin, whose contract would be much more affordable without the luxury tax penalties.

The Knicks also made mistakes by signing veterans Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby to three-year deals, which took up cap space in the much-maligned third year of Lin’s deal. Both Kidd and Camby will be well into their 40’s by the time they are in the third year of their contracts.

Since the third year of Camby’s deal is only partially guaranteed, the contracts of Kidd and Camby will cost the Knicks about $5 million against the cap in that third year. Because the luxury tax hits rise incrementally, the final $5 million dollars of Lin’s third year would be taxed $12 million, as that portion is taxed at a rate of $2.50 for every dollar. Thus, the team could have saved $12 million by giving Camby and Kidd one less year to avoid the tax hit in the third year.

Although they weren’t faced with the final offer sheet when they made their final deals for the veterans, the Knicks knew the Rockets were contemplating backloading Lin’s offer sheet to make it tougher for the Knicks to match. By taking on extra contracts in that crucial third year, the Knicks only made it tougher on themselves.

The Knicks can call the contract as “ridiculous” all they want, but they have themselves to blame for losing out on the man they morphed into a celebrity. Now he will take his star to Houston, where the Rockets will enjoy the fruits of “Linsanity.”

USA Basketball Team Built For Success

The final roster for the 2012 USA Olympic basketball team was announced on July 7th, and the decision from chairman Jerry Colangelo added James Harden, Andre Igoudala, and Blake Griffin to the mainstays of the international roster.

The trio got the call over the likes of Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis, who were also competing for the right to round out the USA roster this summer in London.

Though invaluable to their teams in NBA play, Harden, Iguodala, and Griffin will be relegated to supporting roles at the Games. Still, their inclusion demonstrates the direction Mike Krzyzewski will take this team once this team begins their familiar role as international favorites.

While the selections of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams could be seen as no-brainers, USA will also round out their team with the likes of Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Tyson Chandler, perhaps providing a glimpse into the style of play the team will employ in London.

The roster selections certainly indicate the value Team USA has placed upon experience and versatility, as only Harden and Griffin will be making their debut for their country in an Olympics or World Championship.

A number of players also have the ability to defend and play multiple positions, a strategy used to combat the lack of frontcourt depth in light of the absence of USA mainstays Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh.

The inclusion of only one true center (Chandler) indicates that Krzyzewski may play a smaller lineup in key moments during the Games, relying on athleticism and quickness rather than a size advantage. This will allow the Americans to closely mirror the lineups of their opponent, most of whom will not be led by a dominant big man.

With the likes of James, Durant, and Anthony on the wings and Paul at the point, Team USA will certainly hope to use their athleticism to get baskets in transition. But Plan B will depend on a halfcourt set in which almost any player can create their own shot, and Paul will inevitably be key with his ability to break defenses down off the dribble.

Although there are concerns that his drive-and-kick game will be less effective without the NBA’s stringent hand-checking rules, Paul should be able to get wherever he wants on the court and exhibit spectacular court vision against less than NBA-caliber defenders.

The team also lacks a three-point shooting specialist to stretch the floor and create space to operate, a role that may be filled by Bryant on this star-studded team. It’s one he’s unfamiliar with, however, as Bryant is used to dominating the ball as the alpha-dog for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Either way, the USA shouldn’t have trouble scoring in London with their wealth of offensive talent and pedigree. Instead their main challenge will likely be handling the familiarity and continuity their challengers bring to the table.

This will likely give them the most trouble defensively, as the international game is predicated more on motion offense rather than pick and roll play, which dominates the NBA game. It will be a challenge for the American stars to remain aware of the challenge this presents, especially in the form of back cuts and hustle plays that have fallen out of favor in the NBA.

Irrevocably the favorite in any level of international basketball competition, all eyes will be on Team USA this summer in London. Let’s hope their eyes are more fixated on the opponent than their own hype machine.

It’s the only thing that can stop them.

Idea Of A “Big Three” Still Brings Excitement

Paul Pierce was tired. At the ripe age of 29, Pierce had wasted yet another season of his prime on a Boston Celtics team that had endured one of the worst basketball seasons in their storied history, finishing a paltry 24-58 and dead last in the Atlantic Division.

The five-time all-star small forward had missed significant time that season with a bum foot, as the lack of help surrounding Pierce contributed mightily to the team’s miserable year. Negative attitudes between Celtics players, Pierce included, and members of the organization’s front office only enhanced the team’s unstable situation, as each day brought increased tension to the storied franchise.

In truth, a winning brand of basketball couldn’t have seemed further away for the Celtics.

As the Celtics’ 2006-2007 season sputtered to an end, Pierce seemed doomed to spend the remainder of his glory days as a star carrying his squad to mediocrity at best. But what happened next would change the recent fortunes of the shamrock-yielding franchise and the landscape of the entire NBA for years to come.

On June 28, 2007, the same day the 2007 NBA Draft took place in New York City, Celtics’ President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge acquired sharp-shooting all-star guard Ray Allen from the Seattle Supersonics, immediately transforming his team into a playoff contender.

A month later, on July 31, Ainge pulled another rabbit out of the hat when he plucked perennial all-star power forward and 2003-2004 Most Valuable Player Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves for nearly nothing in return.

Without warning, Ainge had transformed the Celtics from a perennial Eastern Conference bottom-feeder into an immediate title contender, setting up a record season that would garnish him Executive of the Year honors.

The 2007-2008 season also saw Garnett win the Defensive Player of the Year award, while the Celtics posted the biggest turnaround from one season to the next in NBA history, improving their record a full 42 games from the 2006-2007 season.

With a 66-16 regular season record, good for best in the league, the Celtics would grind their way through the playoffs with home-court advantage in each round, something that proved beneficial for the surprisingly road-deficient Celtics.

After defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in six games in the NBA Finals, the Celtics’ could raise another championship banner as their league-leading 17th was perhaps the most improbable of all considering the massive disappointments they’d endured the previous season. Pierce was named the 2008 NBA Finals MVP, a total vindication for the Hall-of-Fame-bound forward that completed a journey which seemed so lost just a season before.

With those three superstars intact, the Celtics’ core had enough reason to fall victim to the cliché and unoriginal moniker “The Big Three.”

As NBA analysts began to thrive on the epithet, increasingly referring not to the individual star power of the Celtics but rather the “Big Three” as a solitary being, teams around the league began deliberating their own methods of how they could acquire this ingenious recipe for immediate success.

First, it was the Los Angeles Lakers, whose three-pronged star power came to fruition in February of 2007 when they hijacked All-Star forward Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in return for a handful of misfit, over-the-hill Laker pieces and relatively meaningless draft rights.

In addition to superstar guard Kobe Bryant and up-and-coming big man Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol’s entrance to the Lakers was cause for yet another stratospheric leap for a previously unimpressive team.

Though the Lakers’ own “Big Three” couldn’t handle the Celtics’ original version in the Finals that season, they would go on to win the next two championships, another example of the suddenly realistic possibility of “Big Threes” across the league leading to immediate success.

LeBron James and Chris Bosh teamed up with Dwyane Wade on the Miami Heat following the 2009-2010 NBA season as the third such model of the “Big Three” frenzy that had swept across the league, igniting some teams that didn’t even have the recipe to fit the moniker to begin using it anyway.

Indeed, teams like the New York Knicks, with Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler/Jeremy Lin, began believing in their own almost-but-not-really “Big Three” potential, despite barely making the playoffs in 2012 before getting eliminated in five games by the soon-to-be-champion Miami Heat.

Still, as the off-season creeps nearer to training camp, another realistic “Big Three” possibility sits on the horizon.

Less than a month following the Heats’ first championship together, rumors of grandiose, albeit realistic, possibilities surround the Brooklyn Nets in their hunt for their own immediate success.

With superstar point guard Deron Williams and top-five center Brook Lopez manning the Nets’ franchise, disgruntled superstar big man Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic has indicated that he wants to be traded now, perhaps to the Nets.

Back when the NBA landscape circled primarily around logical trades and evened-out star power, it would have been crazy to think of three top NBA players playing for the same team. It would have been absurd to think that franchise players have as much, if not more, power within the organization than management themselves.

But the “Big Three” extravaganza has only built steam since its 2007 Celtics’ inception, with more players than ever before realizing that they can force their way to a team of their choice when playing opportunities open up for them, refusing to give into the boring, conventional trade and free agent situations that have permeated star diffusion in this league since the NBA’s beginning.

One big three has since spawned multiple. As an avid NBA fan, I’m no longer tired.

Durant May Be The Best Closer In NBA

Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were outscored 9-0 late in the game.

LeBron James takes a lot of, well, Heat for not finishing ballgames. And a lot of it is warranted, the way he tends to disappear and almost takes himself out of plays when it comes to clutch time.

Kobe Bryant, however, is known as “the best closer in the game” by many.

But not on Wednesday.

The Lakers butchered a seven-point lead with two minutes to go, with Bryant having a hand in a majority of those miscues down the stretch of a 77-75 loss at Oklahoma City.

Here’s how the play-by-play looked down the stretch, and it didn’t look good for Bryant:

3:20: Bryant misses 24-footer.
3:16 Bryant foul on Westbrook.
1:59 James Harden drives past Bryant for layup, LA leads 75-70.
1:47 Bryant turnover, Durant steal and dunk, LA leads 75-72.
1:39 Steve Blake pass goes off Bryant’s hand.
1:00 Harden blocks a Bryant field-goal attempt.
0:56 Harden scores again past Bryant, LA leads 75-74.
0:36 Bryant misses 3-point attempt.
0:34 Durant runner, OKC takes the lead 76-75.

Former L.A. Times columnist and ESPN writer J.A. Adande summed it up best with his tweet afterward: Based on the last 2 nights, the answer to Kobe vs. Lebron? is “none of the above.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Maybe the best player of the postseason is Kevin Durant, who led the Thunder on a 9-0 run to end the game. He’s definitely starting to make the MVP voters reconsider their votes cast last month.

As for the Lakers, this all but wraps it up for their season (with back-to-back games Friday and Saturday, it’s going to be tough to take Games 3 and 4 in L.A.). And when Bryant can’t close out a game, you know the Lakers are in trouble. And when his teammates are throwing up their arms in disgust, as Andrew Bynum did late in the game on multiple occasions, it’s clear the team is dysfunctional and has too many issues to be overcoming what is clearly the best young team in the league.

Where do they go from here? That’s anybody’s guess, but if Bryant is starting to lose his touch — on top of all of the other issues the Lakers are having — you know the franchise is in trouble.

World Peace Helps Lakers Advance

While the Lakers “bigs” got all the credit from ESPN and the major media outlets Saturday for stepping up in a 96-87 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Game 7, it’s clear defense was the difference.

Specifically Ron Artest, or Metta World Peace, who completely shut down whoever he was guarding Saturday in his return from a seven-game suspension.

World Peace also did plenty of damage at the offense end, scoring 15 points and hitting four big threes in the Laker victory.

Steve Blake, who struggled at the defensive end, made up for his lack of D with a playoff career-high 19 points.

Kobe Bryant played a more passive role, getting his teammates involved with 17 points and eight assists.

Pau Gasol also came to play at both ends, fishing with 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists. But after the game, he gave the credit to the return of World Peace at the Staples Center.

“(Metta) had a great impact,” Gasol told TNT afterward. “Metta does a great job. He just gets into guys. He forces things. He makes things happen for us on the defensive end.”

While Denver’s guards blew past Blake and the Lakers front line for much of the night (Ty Lawson scored 24 points, Arron Afflalo had 15), typical go-to’s such as Danilo Gallinari and Andre Miller struggled against World Peace. Gallinari was 1-9 from the floor, finishing with three points and four turnovers. Miller was 1-10, finishing with three points and five turnovers.

Arguably the difference in the series for Denver, Miller’s only field goal came against, you guessed it, the Lakers “bigs.” The 6-foot-2 Miller upfaked Gasol and then scored over the slacking, 7-foot Bynum to cut the the Lakers lead to 78-77 with 6:51 to go … a play ESPN.com’s headline writers obviously missed.

“It’s defense, defense,” World Peace said. “It’s the little things you can’t really see. … It’s about the intangibles that I bring to the table.”

Especially when it comes to the NBA playoffs, and a team with aging super stars that don’t have the defensive presence they once had.

A year ago, Tyson Chandler converted Dallas from a soft, aging team of offensive-minded veterans, into a scrappy, gritty defensive squad that suffocated LeBron James and the Miami Heat to win their first NBA title.

This year, with Chandler gone (he still won the Defensive Player of the Year award), the Mavs are already gone from the playoffs.

Same thing for the Lakers. With Metta World Peace, the Lakers have a chip on their shoulder and play a suffocating defense that translates into team basketball at the offensive end as well.

Without him, the Lakers get pushed to seven games by a Denver Nuggets team that’s void of a superstar.

Luckily for the Lakers, they get World Peace back just in time for their showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Artest’s old friend James Harden. And while Harden – who suffered a concussion courtesy an Artest elbow the last time these two teams played – will certainly be looking for some revenge, you know the Thunder will be thinking twice about taking it right at World Peace this time around.

It’ll be interesting to see how Mike Brown sets the matchups heading into the second round, but it appears he’s finally starting to realize just how important World Peace is to the Lakers’ success.

“Obviously, we all played well, but I’d be remissed if I did not talk about Metta,” Brown said in the postgame press conference. “He was huge tonight. … His presence helped out a lot. I didn’t realize Miller and Gallinari were a combined 2-19. That is our team defense, but Metta had a lot to do with that.

“I mean, he made plays tonight that won’t show up in the stat sheet that were absolutely, freaking amazing for us defensively.”