View Full Version : Getting Knicks pointed in right direction

07-31-2002, 07:40 PM
Wednesday, July 31, 2002
Getting Knicks pointed in right direction
By Chad Ford

Editor's note: ESPN Insider's Chad Ford breaks down what last season's NBA lottery teams need to do to get to the playoffs. ESPN.com's "Fixer-Upper" series continues with the New York Knicks.

Scott Layden has a tough job. It isn't often that you find a way to ship off injury-plagued big man Marcus Camby and the rights to a draft pick that is still years away, get All-Star power forward Antonio McDyess in return and still get pummeled by the press.

Layden's draft day maneuverings were the latest in an ongoing attempt to retool the post-Patrick Ewing Knicks without spending years and years in the lottery. Layden doesn't believe you can rebuild in New York. From the sound of his critics, he's right.

[Allan Houston]
Giving Allan Houston $100 million was the first of many mistakes by Knicks GM Scott Layden.
Layden may be misunderstood, but his moves aren't always easy to understand. Last summer, he went through the most bizarre set of transactions the league has ever seen.

He threw $100 million Allan Houston's way, despite the fact the Houston couldn't get $50 million anywhere else. He gave Shandon Anderson a six-year deal starting at $5.5 million a year via sign-and-trade when Anderson was getting an offer for half as much from Houston. He traded for Howard Eisley , an overpaid backup who had no chance to compete in the Knicks' overcrowded backcourt. Then he went and blew his entire mid-level exception on Clarence Weatherspoon, an undersized power forward on a team that was filled with them.

What was Layden thinking? New York had been known for years to be the place where bad contracts go to die. Now it's getting the rep as a crap-contract maternity ward as well. Layden operates under the U.S. Military style of budgeting. If there's money to spend, spend it -- regardless of what you get in return.

While the McDyess trade was a move in the right direction, it isn't enough to propel this team into the playoffs next season. The Knicks are still woefully thin at point guard and center.

The Knicks were heavily pursuing Andre Miller, Baron Davis and Vin Baker in a desperate attempt to get the franchise back on track after slipping out of the playoffs last season. But we knew all along that was a pipe dream. Their relentless attempts to trade either Latrell Sprewell or Houston have been well-documented. So have their rejections.

Why the obsession with trading away one of their two best players? The Knicks brass feels like the team needs to move one of its shooting guards and bring in either a bigger, more versatile small forward or a top-flight point guard next season. Sprewell has been playing out of position for four years in New York and the team feels like it has finally taken its toll. One of the two needs to go, and so far, Sprewell appears to have the most trade value.

What's the problem? The Knicks are trying to get an All-Star-caliber player back in return. Both players put up career numbers last year. Houston had a career high in scoring (20.2 points per game) and 3-pointers made. Sprewell put up his highest point total (19.4 points per game) since he joined the Knicks. Nevertheless, it's become pretty apparent that there isn't a blockbuster trade out there for Sprewell or Houston.

Sprewell's troubled past, his age (32) and a huge contract that still has three years and $40.5 million remaining are his poison pills. Hawks general manager Pete Babcock recently cited character as the primary reason why his team wouldn't trade for Sprewell. "It's unfair to compare players, but we went against our organizational standards to a degree with J. R. Rider a few years ago. We rolled the dice -- we lost big-time on it. We would have to think very hard about bending again."

Other teams think it's the combination of Sprewell's age and his contract that's the real problem. In an age of luxury-tax woes, most teams can't afford to take on that kind of money. "I thought he really lost a step last year," one team exec said. "He can still put up big games for you, but the intensity was lacking. I thought he was terrible defensively. I know it had a lot to do with the tumultuous situation in New York, but you wonder how much longer he's going to be explosive."

Ironically, the Knicks would prefer to move Houston, whose absolutely outrageous deal last summer makes him virtually untradeable. His six-year, $100 million contract will probably be the last of its kind.

"Houston is a good player," another team exec said. "But he's way overpaid. The only way the Knicks could move him would be to take a massive salary back in return. Right now, they may be willing to take the gamble."

Can the Knicks ever make it back to the playoffs? ESPN.com poured over depth charts, trade rumors, salary-cap information and even sought the advice of a few NBA general managers to give you the five things the Knicks must do to get into the playoffs next season.

[Nick Van Exel]
Van Exel

[Damon Stoudamire]
Step 1: Get realistic and find a point guard.
For all of you who sat around waiting for Scott Layden to land Andre Miller, was it worth the wait? The Knicks don't have the juice to land Miller, Davis, Stephon Marbury or any other young point guard. Instead, the Knicks need to focus on finding a team which has a few troubles of its own. A quick survey around the league finds two point guards the Knicks could conceivably land: Nick Van Exel and Damon Stoudamire. The best deal the Knicks could swing would be Van Exel for Kurt Thomas and Charlie Ward. The Mavs think Van Exel is wonderful insurance for the fragile Steve Nash , but Van Exel's attitude will rot if his minutes start to dwindle. Still it will take an impact player to pry him away. The Mavs have been dying to get their hands back on Thomas. He's the type of no-nonsense, dirty-work player the team has been searching for. While Ward isn't nearly the backup Van Exel will be, he and Avery Johnson should be able to hold down the fort in Dallas if Nash starts to crumble.

[Keith Van Horn]
Van Horn
Step 2: Forget dealing Sprewell, find a home for Houston.
Keith Van Horn was Byron Scott's whipping boy all last season. And, after the Finals, Kenyon Martin took a swipe at Van Horn that won't be forgotten. Van Horn is talented, but it looks like he's worn out his welcome in New Jersey. The Nets have been desperately trying to move Van Horn and find some perimeter shooting in the process. While the Nets would prefer Sprewell, the Knicks are reluctant to let him play in their backyard. The last thing Layden wants to do is trade a fan favorite to the Nets and then watch him become the last piece of the puzzle in the Nets' quest for a championship. That leaves Houston, who may be a better fit in New Jersey anyway. Houston is more one-dimensional, but he'd be the best shooter on the team. Outside shooting was the Nets' Achilles heel last season and Houston may be the best (and most expensive) solution available. While Van Horn isn't the answer to all of the Knicks' problems, he's young, has size, is a good perimeter shooter and has a tie to Utah (a must for Layden). The trade would also allow Sprewell to move back to his natural shooting guard position and give the Knicks a lot of flexibility on what sets they run. The deal, financially, wouldn't be as egregious as you think for the Nets. Houston's contract is only one year longer than Van Horn's. If the Knicks were to assume Jamie Feick's terrible contract as part of the trade, the numbers basically add up for the next four seasons.

[Wang ZhiZhi]

[Keon Clark]
Step 3: Get either Keon Clark or Wang Zhizhi to help in the post.
The Knicks are on the verge of snagging Michael Doleac , but they still need another body in the middle. If reports out of the New York are true, Doleac will sign for the veteran's exception, meaning that the Knicks have their full mid-level exception to play with. They could go in two directions here. Keon Clark is a bundle of energy. He's a terrific shot blocker, likes to crash the boards and can dominate for stretches. The problem with Clark is his inconsistency. He can disappear for long stretches. His recent citation for marijuana possession won't help his cause, either. Wang ZhiZhi is a bigger risk, but he, too, has a huge upside. Can he play center? The Mavs used him almost exclusively at small forward the last two years. However, his play in the summer league turned some heads. He rebounded well and showed some nice polish in the post. Neither player is a center, but both have games that could help spark a Knicks playoff run. Bet on the Knicks taking Clark despite his troubles. The marijuana revelation should allow the team to get him on the cheap.

[Mike Dunleavy]
Step 4: Find a new head coach.
Don Chaney is a nice man, and all of the Knicks' problems last year weren't his fault. There was a reason Jeff Van Gundy got out when he did. But if this team is going to make a serious run in the East -- and Layden will expect nothing less -- they'll need a coach who can handle all of the personalities on this team. Last time we checked, Van Exel, Sprewell, Van Horn and Clark have all had trouble, from time to time, getting along with the coach. There isn't a perfect fit for them, but Mike Dunleavy Sr. has some experience working with talented, but troubled players.

Those moves would give the Knicks this opening day roster:

* Point guard: Nick Van Exel, Howard Eisley, Frank Williams.
* Shooting guard: Latrell Sprewell, Lavor Postell.
* Small forward: Keith Van Horn, Shandon Anderson.
* Power forward: Antonio McDyess, Clarence Weatherspoon, Othella Harrington.
* Center: Keon Clark, Michael Doleac, Travis Knight, Jamie Feick

Step 5: Pull out the checkbook.
The Knicks have the biggest payroll in the NBA and making these moves will only make it larger. CEO James Dolan will have to pay big time for Layden to overhaul this team, but it is possible. Their payroll will take them to a ridiculous $95 million dollars this year. If the luxury tax hits and it lands around the $50 million mark, it will cost the team an additional $45 million in penalties. That hurts, but for the right price, the Knicks should be able to turn this team back into a real contender.

Chad Ford writes the daily NBA Insider column for ESPN Insider.

Copyright 2002 ESPN Internet Ventures.

08-01-2002, 10:17 AM
Getting Knicks pointed in right direction....

Which way is the cellar?

08-01-2002, 12:08 PM
For the Knicks, the cellar is directly upwards.

08-01-2002, 02:03 PM
Unfortunately for NYK fans, I think the NYKs are still heading downward. They will get worse before they get better.