Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Peter Vecsey comes through with the latest in a series of columns that have essentially been culled from hidden microphone recordings of conversations my father and I had in December of 2003. We're sure of it. Yes, the names have been changed, because Dad and I never assumed that Jared Jeffries would have made it past his rookie contract or that that Jerome James would have been in the league long enough to grab a deal in the summer of 2005, but the sentiments remain.

It's a good column: Isiah Thomas is a bad GM, he's not only brought in a bunch of horribly mismatched basketball players ill-suited to be counted on for anything more than a strong first quarter in a blowout loss, but, as coach, he's also lost control of them. The Knicks should fire Isiah.

Yes, fire Isiah. Go nuts. Trade his bums away, and have fun. See how that works.  Because it won't.

The Knicks need to dump Isiah Thomas, and trade just about every player they have away. That's the obvious part. The problem here is that there are precious few players on this team (David Lee, Renaldo Balkman ... that's it) worth building around, and even those guys are role players. A major fire sale should be in the offing, but it is contingent, of course, on Isiah finding another four or five jobs as a GM for other teams under four different pseudonyms. This is the NBA, you need two to tango, and I'm having a hard time finding a new home for any of these mugs.

You can't just cut someone like Eddy Curry or release Stephon Marbury, like an NFL team could, and watch as the contract flies off the books. And you can't just dump someone like Jared Jeffries or Jamal Crawford on a team desperate for overrated defense and bad shooting for a series of Double-A semi-prospects, as you can in Major League Baseball. Things are different in the NBA, where you need a trading partner to match the salary of the guaranteed contract you're trading, and who would want these guys?

Marbury is owed nearly $40 million over this season and the next one, and even if there was a team desperate for someone to run the point guard position (or to clear salary and grab a contract that expires in the summer of 2009), it will be next to impossible to garner enough salaries in return to match that $20 million average. Eddy Curry can score in the low post, but he's woefully below average in every other facet of pro basketball besides his one solid skill, and his uninsured contract averages about $10 million a year over the next four seasons. Yes, he can score, but his pitiful defense will more than mitigate his great offense, his legendarily bad rebounding skills will kill your team on both ends, and Eddy's inability to find a teammate while double-teamed will destroy your offense even before he gets a chance to do the one thing he's good at.

So, at $10 million a year, who would want this guy? Remember, the Knicks can throw in exactly two (Lee and Balkman) low-salaried, high-production players to sweeten any deal, but those two only go so far when you have 13 other high-salaried loads to unload.

We don't mean to pick on Pete Vecsey's column, he's got the right idea, and he isn't falling into the trap that a lot of national columnists do by proposing an obvious solution ("throw the bums out!") without actually telling you how to do it.

But for every troubled team in the league, the average hardcore NBA fan could give you the blueprint of a cogent rebuilding play. With the Knicks, even the freaks are stuck; because we can't imagine who would want to take on Marbury, Curry, Randolph, Crawford, Richardson (in spite of his actual tough play), James, Jeffries or Malik Rose. Seriously, look at these salaries and refer back to your favorite team. Would you want any of these guys littering your salary cap? And what price would you pay for the right to have them litter your salary cap?

Now, think of your typical GM, with his typical three-year window to "get things right." Can you think of any GM in the NBA that would want to take on any member of this lot? Jerry West could take on New York's GM job by the time you're done with lunch today, and it wouldn't mean a thing. Unless the next Knick GM finds an Isiah-like sucker to take on any of these guys, the Knicks are stuck with a likely batch of embarrassing buyouts. So, until the contracts are up, expect Fire Isiah (that's his first name, right?) to stick around. Honestly, there's precious little that any replacement can do until then.

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