I really love Manu Ginobili, and I would’ve loved to see what he could do as a Knick, but I gotta say I was kinda glad when he recently signed a 3-year deal to stay with the Spurs. That meant he wouldn’t be available as a huge risk out there tempting the Knicks. If you look at the players with the 30 Biggest Salaries from this past season, you can pretty much lump ‘em into two categories: the best of the best and the obscenely overpaid injured types. There’s a serious danger that Manu will fall into Group B. As exciting as it’d be to see how good he could be as a team’s focal point (rather than Tim Duncan and Tony Parker being the first two options), it’s a bad bet.
You can probably guess the Group A guys, many of whom could conceivably get even more if they became free agents today. That’s Kobe (#2), Tim Duncan (#4), Dirk Nowitzki (t-#6), Paul Pierce (t-#6), Pau Gasol (#11), Kevin Garnett (#13), Amare Stoudemire (t-#14), Melo-Lebron-Wade-Bosh(all t-#19), Dwight Howard (#24), and Chris Paul (#30).
The injury boys, who also have diminished because of age, are headlined by our own Tracy McGrady (#1). Most of these guys if they became free agents would be lucky to get half their current salary. There’s Jermaine O’Neal (#3), Shaq (#5), Michael Redd (#10), Andrei Kirilenko (t-#11), Kenyon Martin (#23), Elton Brand (#26), Peja Stojakovic (#27), and our former boy, Larry Hughes (#29). We’ve also got a couple of guys that the jury is still out on (Yao Ming #14, and Gilbert Arenas #17 — although many would argue that Arenas’ case has already been closed and found him guilty).
There are only five who are good, but overpaid players, like Ray Allen (#8 — although this post-season you could argue that he’s been the one who’s worthy of the max money while Pierce has taken over Allen’s underachieving ways from the last two years), Rashard Lewis (#9 — should your highest salaried player be your 4th most important player behind Dwight, Jameer & Vince?), Vince himself (#16 — maybe he’ll prove himself in the playoffs, but at 16.6 pts in the regular season, he’s basically getting paid a cool million for each point), Zach Randolph (#18 — this was probably the first year in a while where he earned that money, but we can’t ignore the last few seasons), and Richard Jefferson (#28 — he really should be in the completely overpaid injured section but he hasn’t been injured despite his game falling off a cliff).
The one guy left is #25, Joe Johnson. He’s almost the anti-ZBo in that he’s totally been worth the money for the last several seasons, and only just recently has his value perhaps pulled a 180. And that turn was actually only in the playoffs, as during the regular season he still averaged nearly 20-5-5 (points-rebounds-assists) on practically 46% shooting. Those are impressive numbers. The question is which Joe would we get? That one, or the playoff one who scored 17 points on 38% shooting. Or even worse, the second-round-playoff-Joe who only noticed 12 on a lowly 29% shooting?
The other key factor is age. Not because Joe’ll get injured, ‘cuz he’s been an iron man so far. Ginobili could rip in two at any moment, but JJ’s a tough guy who takes care of himself. However, traditionally perimeter players have their game go downhill when they hit their mid-thirties. Unlike LeBron, JJ’ll definitely want as long a contract as possible (so five years if you get him straight out or 6 years in a sign-and-trade). That means he’ll be making the most money when he’s 33 or 34. Plus, he’s likely hit his peak, versus LeBron and Bosh are young enough that it’s conceivable that they could still improve. Other players like Amare and Boozer could also possibly improve as they’ve been the sole focal point of an offense, versus Joe’s just spent the last several years being The Man with the freedom to do what he wanted.
The thing is that being the bottom of the barrel, how picky can the Knicks be? Atlanta had to overpay to get Joe, and similarly Orlando had to overpay to get Rashard Lewis. Free agents tend to need to see more $ in order to risk going to a losing team. If we somehow get LeBron, then okay, Joe (& others) would likely join for less money, but otherwise the sole free agent who might give us a (slight) discount is David Lee.
After the Hawks’ humbling loss, it proved that Joe Johnson can’t be the #1 guy on a championship team. However, in that group above, only Kobe, Wade & Tim Duncan have shown that they can be the clear #1 guy on a championship team. For instance, Dirk Nowitzki hasn’t lead the Mavs to the Promised Land, but with all the wins he’s helped provide in Dallas, there’s no doubt he’s worth the money. Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, etc never lead their teams to a championship, but they helped create a winning culture on their teams. Joe Johnson couldn’t take the Hawks all the way, but he helped change them from doormats to a top Eastern Conference team. Isn’t that worth big bucks? And maybe down the road we could get say a Carmelo Anthony to be the big dog? If we offer Joe the max, will we be laying down the foundation for a great future, or establishing a low ceiling before the first floor’s even finished?