The New York Knicks have more or less made it official. For perhaps the second time in the franchise’s history, they are not in “win now” mode. For perhaps the 50th time in the franchise’s history, they are in, “let’s try to clean this mess up” mode.
Phil Jackson is the latest savior, brought in to deal with the players and limitations left over from a reckless era of spending spurred on by owner James Dolan. The Knicks are lacking draft picks, cap space, and they were thought to be lacking in trade assets until Wednesday afternoon, when it was confirmed that the team had agreed to a deal with the Dallas Mavericks. ESPN was the first to report that the Knicks would send declining center Tyson Chandler and doughy guard Raymond Felton to Dallas in a deal that would net the Knicks two second round draft picks, second year guard Shane Larkin and steady playmaker Jose Calderon. The Mavericks are also sending center Samuel Dalembert to New York in the transaction.
For Dallas, the motivation is simple. The team wants to win right away, and in dealing for the center that helped lead the Mavericks to the 2011 NBA title, the Mavs both upgrade their terrible defense, and set in stone a rotation that, when paired with a returning Dirk Nowitzki and a potential free agent signee, could vault Dallas back into championship contention.
Of course, Dallas declined to re-sign Chandler after the 2011 season mainly because it was wary of paying the aging big man the going rate for his services, and the team appears to have gotten the worst of both ends of that decision. It was a smart basketball move at the time, but Chandler won the Defensive Player of the Year in his first season away from Dallas, and he returns to the team as an approximation of his former self, making the exact sort of money the Mavericks (again, smartly at the time) didn’t want to pay him in the final year of the deal. Meanwhile, the team has whiffed in three consecutive offseasons, entering this year’s free agency period, at attempting to use the Chandler-aided flexibility in hopes of pairing Dirk Nowitzki with another superstar.
Chandler will make just under $14.6 million next season, and he only has one year left on the deal. Mavs owner Mark Cuban has never minded paying huge salaries to players he deems worth it, and his front office will still have significant cap space to work with this summer. In a way, this odd re-do of a deal is admirable for the Mavericks. They’re not exactly admitting to a mistake – had a few things played out Dallas’ way this team could have turned Chandler’s absence into a killer unit of a team – and it’s impressive to see the squad moving forward despite the catcalls they’ll hear.
Giving up both Larkin and Calderon is especially tough, though. The latter is one of the league’s steadier point guards, he rarely turns the ball over and only scores when the situation is deemed efficient enough (that’s a long way of saying “Jose needs to shoot more”), and the Mavericks will miss his work as starting lead man. It’s true that getting out of the three years and over $22 million Calderon has left on his deal will help Dallas in the end, but his absence will pain the Mavericks in 2014-15. Especially if Monta Ellis goes off the rails again, and if Felton performs as expected.
The loss of Larkin is a sketchier situation. Injuries hampered the diminutive guard’s rookie season, and he never quite caught on in coach Rick Carlisle’s rotation. If he’s a diamond in the rough or a throw-in is entirely up to Jackson, who was not working in a full time NBA scouting position (though he was live-tweeting the NCAA tournament) when Larkin was playing NCAA ball.
From here, the Mavericks look to free agency once again to improve their team. They’ll need to suss out the next contract for Dirk Nowitzki almost immediately after the free agency period begins in order to remove his cap hold and determine exactly what sort of discount he’ll be giving the team in order for it to surround him with help. After that, the futures of Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, both free agents, have to be sussed out. Then the team needs to find out if bad timing and bad luck, once again, will deny them at a chance at a boffo free agent. It is still possible, with its eventual cap space, for it to swing further trades to bring players in, it could score big with a player like Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James, or it could “settle” by finding ways to land Kyle Lowry and/or Luol Deng.
For New York, the future is definitely not now. They’ll take in assets in terms of the draft picks and a young player in Larkin, and hope that Calderon can give the team a solid year before they set to deal the point man (who will be 33 on opening night) to a team that feels like it’s one point guard away from going over the top – relieving themselves of that very un-Mavs-like (but very Knicks-like) unwieldy contract.
New York will take in immediate savings in dealing Chandler and Felton, but not enough to find itself under the cap or even luxury tax level as things stand now. If New York passes on re-signing Carmelo Anthony, though, the team could actually be right around the salary cap ceiling this summer. That’s not great news for Knicks fans, who will still have to wait until 2015 for the team to have cap space to throw at free agents, and the team will still have to find a taker for Calderon’s contract moving forward, but it’s something.
Yes, second round picks are something. The presence of Larkin’s potential and Calderon’s competent point guard play is something. Sending out more salary than the team will take in, for once, is something. The Knicks could save even more by waiving Dalembert and lopping about $2 million in non-guaranteed money off the team’s payroll, but Samuel is a center that can walk and chew gum at the same time, and he makes only $3.8 million. The Knicks, even though they’re punting 2014-15, will probably need him to sop up minutes.
The move likely negatively affects the team’s chances at retaining Anthony, but it was always dubious that Phil Jackson was keen to keep Anthony around on a massive contract in the first place. The point has always been a slow rebuild, because the previous administrations in New York had so deeply salted the soil. And nothing says “slow rebuild” like coveting mere second round picks in a trade.
Dallas is desperate, as well they should be. And hit or miss, it’s going to be fun watching the team’s front office throw its options around this summer.
- - - - - - -