Will The Future Be Bright Enough For Us To Need Sunglasses?


In less than two years, Donnie Walsh has done the unthinkable: he has taken a team that had the highest payroll to one that will have the most cap space in time for perhaps the NBA’s biggest summer free agent bonanza ever.  But at what cost?  We’ve already let our 2009 lottery pick go (Jordan Hill) and have pretty much given away our 2011 and 2012 picks too (Isiah had already given up this year’s 2010 pick which should be pretty good since we such so hard).  In addition, while he hasn’t given up any certifiable studs, he has tossed away some decent pieces, like Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph (who both fit well in D’Antoni’s system last year & had us winning for once).

New Yorkers, rightfully, are worried that this is an all-or-nothing proposition.  Basically, unless we get LeBron James or Dwayne Wade, we’ll just be a slightly above average team.  Kinda like how we looked with Crawford & Randolph.  While there are other studs available this summer like A’mare Stoudamire, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer, none of ’em are mega-stars who ensure you’ll have a legit shot at winning a championship.  Those second-tier guys just assure that you’ll make the playoffs.  Even if you do get two of ’em.

So if we don’t get Plan A, does that mean Plan B is doomed to fail?  Not necessarily.  Most Knicks fans are worried about Plan B, but that’s ‘cuz they assume it means not just that we sign two lesser talents, but that we sign them to more than they’re worth.  The fear is that we do something like the Pistons did this summer, when they had a bunch of cash and felt compelled to spend it, thus overpaying for Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, both of whom are currently coming off the bench for Detroit.  Likewise, several years ago a few teams cleared cap space to sign Tim Duncan and Grant Hill.  After Duncan stayed with the Spurs and Hill went with Tracy McGrady to Orlando, Chicago paid a bunch of money to some scrubs just to say they got someone.

Now if Isiah was still in charge, sure, we all know he would definitely follow that path, but doesn’t Donnie Walsh deserve the benefit of the doubt?  Besides the remarkable salary dumping job he did for us, he had quite a run with the Indiana Pacers.  Not only did he assemble enough talent for them to constantly be in the top of the east during the late 1990s, but he even got that team to Finals against the Lakers in… what was it, 2000?  And after that within a year or two he had completely rejuvenated that team, getting rid of Rick Smits, Mark Jackson, Dale Davis, Antonio Davis, Jalen Rose, and turning them into a young Eastern Conference contender around Jermaine O’Neal, Brad Miller, Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jamaal Tinsley, and the still effective Grandpa Reggie Miller.  This was a team that seemed poised to make it to the finals for the next few years until the unfortunate Malice At The Palace, players-and-fans-scuffle.  Has a team ever been turned around that quickly with a completely new cast?  The Lakers new team is still built around Kobe, one of their two supernova stars from their earlier three-peat.  The old-time Celtics won like 11 championships with various supporting stars, but they all centered around Bill Russell.

Fine, you say, we’ll give Walsh a chance.  But if he doesn’t get LeBron or Wade, what can he reasonably do to get the rest of the cream of the crop?  The key is getting some supporting parts at reasonable prices.  Houston has been excellent at that, getting solid unflashy guys like Shane Battier, Trevor Ariza, Luis Scola, and Carl Landry on the (relative) cheap.  Get Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson to agree to slightly less than the max, and then try to snag Ray Felton, Brendan Haywood, Josh Childress, Shannon Brown, Rudy Gay, Manu Ginobili, Kyle Korver, or Mike Miller on the cheap.  Maybe David Lee or TMac will agree to a lesser deal.  It would be pretty solid to have a line-up of Bosh, Lee, Gallo, Chandler, and Felton with Childress, Brown, Miller & TMac coming off the bench.

Yes, that’d still probably only get us to 4th or 5th in the East, but here’s the thing: it also would keep us out of the tax.  Since you personally don’t have to pay the tax as a fan, you probably don’t care, but it matters a bunch.  Why?  It means that the following summer, 2011, when Eddy Curry’s $11.3 million salary comes off the books, we can use that full amount to sign someone else.  If we give out excessive contracts this summer, we’ll go over the cap and won’t be able to add anyone new after we get rid of Curry.

With that $11+ mill, we could have a real shot at such 2011 free agents as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Greg Oden, Jason Richardson, Samuel Dalembert, Jeff Green, David West, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Shane Battier, Aaron Brooks, Tayshaun Prince, Rodney Stuckey, J.R.Smith, Nene, Caron Butler, Joakim Noah, Boris Diaw, Kendrick Perkins, Jamal Crawford, Al Horford, and some guy named Carmelo Anthony.  Adding just one of those guys to the above roster would probably elevate the team to one of the East’s elite.  Adding Melo would bring a very real possibility of winning multiple championships.

By having a few reasonable, desirable smaller contracts, we could also trade Curry’s expiring contract in the middle of next season, so we wouldn’t even have to wait for 2011.  Like by next year the Celtics will finally have to accept that Kevin Garnett is so half-dead he’s practically a zombie.  They realize they need to blow up the team, so they decide to get rid of Paul Pierce for an expiring contract.  He makes more than Curry, but we throw in Mike Miller to make things work.  Using those contracts would also help if say someone like Melo wants more than that $11 mill.  We basically give a Mike Miller to a team for free (like only getting a second round pick in return), and then we have like another $3 mill available to pay Anthony.

The point is that it’s not LeBron/Wade or mediocrity.  It’s about not returning to the ways of Scott Layden & Isiah Thomas (& honestly lots of other GMs), and overpaying mid-level players.