Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Knicks Situation

I was all set to take a look at more upcoming free agents to see if they did indeed experience a free agent year push, but after seeing the Knicks “play basketball” at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night, I felt I had to address them. As a Wizards fan (or rather a Bullets fan, since it was retro night) I was happy to see an easy victory, especially one that took the Wiz one step closer to avoiding Detroit or Miami in the first round. But as a basketball fan, I was disgusted. Simply put, the Knicks were a disgrace. Now I know this isn’t some revelatory news, but being there to witness it in person you get a different perspective. I was seated not too far behind the Knicks bench and it was just pathetic watching them. I was honestly offended. Every single player – except for one, who I will get to later – was simply going through the motions. Not even, in some cases. Larry Brown looked disinterested, at best, except when it came time to chew out a player. This quote says it all: "They came in with so much more energy, it was like the varsity against the JV," Brown said. "You've got to keep trying. Somehow you've got to find five guys who care enough to compete. I hate to say that because you take away from (the Wizards players) and what they did, but you've got to hope you have enough pride to compete. I never in my life thought I'd be in a position where you're begging guys to play." Steve Francis went one step further: "It's like a funeral, man," Francis said, his eyes welling up. "That's what it feels like."

So how does this relate to fantasy? Well, coming into the year the Knicks were something of a mystery. Everyone was concerned how the players on the roster would perform under Larry Brown. I had some skepticism myself but thought that the Knicks would actually be a decent place to find some value, at least with their established stars. The Great Larry Brown would identify his team’s strengths and instead of forcing them to conform to his style he would adapt, at least until the roster became more to his liking. Well, not quite. As BV recently said, this year’s Knicks have surpassed the Hubie Brown coached Grizzlies of a couple years ago as the most frustrating fantasy team in recent memory. At least with that Grizzlies team there was some rhyme and reason to what was going on. Brown may not have been giving his best players the minutes they deserved, but he had a plan, stuck with it and it led to victories. Brown and the Knicks have had no clue all season. Players will go from starting to DNP-CD. A great performance is rewarded with a trip out of the starting lineup. During the game the other night Brown didn’t even keep his starting lineup the same in the first half and the second half. Players were yanked for making the smallest of mistakes.

What can we expect next year? Well you know that Isiah Thomas has another trade or two up his sleeve. As it stands now it will be very hard to recommend any player on the Knicks. But let’s take a look anyway.

Eddy Curry seems like the one guy who is assured of not going anywhere. The Knicks were really the only team that wanted him, and with five years and around $50 million left on his contract, the Knicks are going to be stuck with him, for better or worse. Not to mention that Isiah gave up the potential #1 pick in the draft for the guy. Curry’s season has been exactly what we’ve become accustomed to – flashes of brilliance, some injuries and lots of lackluster play. Curry can score, no doubt. And to his credit, he’s missed only one game since the calendar turned. But it’s his fifth season and he still hasn’t shown the ability to stay out of foul trouble and stay on the court. He’s rebounding at his best rate of his career, which is encouraging. But even though he’s the centerpiece of the team (more by default than anything else), he’s still nothing more than a late-round flyer for a team looking to win.

Channing Frye is the guy who should be the centerpiece of the team, or at least something close to it. He’s done nothing but impress when given the chance to play this year, putting up p40 numbers of 20.3/9.1/1.3 with 1.2 blocks and 0.8 steals on excellent shooting. Not bad at all for a rookie. Brown jerked him around a whole lot before he went down with a season-ending knee injury. He’s the team’s most valuable asset, locked into a rookie contract for three more years. So you know that Isiah will deal him for some overpriced veteran in the offseason.

Jackie Butler was the one guy who actually showed up to play against the Wizards. The kid can play. He’s a big body and he knows how to use it, as we was constantly posting up and backing down defenders. He’s also a decent shooter, as evidenced by his 78% shooting from the line. He gave good effort the entire night, even though he was often overlooked by his teammates. He was still able to put up 22 and 8 in just 29 minutes and followed that with 12 and 9 in 21 minutes last night. This kid is an asset. Honestly, I see lots of parallels between him and Al Jefferson. They were born within two months of each other in Mississippi and are 6’10” and a hefty 260+ pounds. Jefferson’s got more offensive talent, but Butler can play. It seems that he’s ineligible to be traded right now, unless RealGM is lying to me, which is probably good news for Knicks fans, as Isiah would likely give him up for Shawn Kemp.

Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury clearly should not be on the same team. Something has got to give. Both were likely second round picks this season and it’s very hard to envision any teams that took them still caring about fantasy basketball right now. Marbury had always been one of the most reliable fantasy options around until this year, and his late-season “injury” might be the end of his time in New York. He and Larry Brown clearly hate each other – I don’t think that’s exaggerating it – and someone needs to go. Perhaps Brown will get so fed up that he’ll quit after the year – perhaps he’ll have more of his convenient “health issues” – but Marbury is more likely. Finding a team to take him will obviously be near impossible, and that’s even more the case with Francis, who is simply not much more than a slightly above average player.

Jamal Crawford is a pretty underappreciated player, I’d say. Sure, he misses tons of shots, but he’s an unquestionably great scorer, as evidenced by his 37 points last night. He’s a durable player and surprisingly reliable for fantasy purposes. Even this year, when he’s started just 19 games, he comes in at a very respectable #84 on the Player Rater, right in between Tayshaun Prince and Ben Gordon. That makes him the highest ranking member of the Knicks, except for Francis, who has only been with the team for 20 games. There’s something to be said about that, finding some value in a terrible situation.

Nate Robinson and David Lee look like they can be solid rotation guys, but probably not much more. Jalen Rose, Mo Taylor and Malik Rose are nothing more than paycheck cashers. Quentin Richardson – and Raja Bell, I suppose – is the best example of the effect a system can have on a player’s value.

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