When is a salary cap not a salary cap? When it’s a luxury tax, of course. The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement does quite a lot to supress player movement, but if you’re James Dolan and the New York Knicks, you can still buy up all the talented athletes you want. The problem is buying the right ones for the job, and using them the right way.
Knicks fans – always known for their fair and reasonable expectations – have been waiting a long, long time for Dolan and his people to figure things out. Is it safe to exhale? New York is back on top of the Atlantic Division after a successful 2012-13 campaign, and the NBA betting market has the Knicks listed at a viable 22-1 to win their first NBA title in 40 years.
He Chose… Poorly
Betting on NBA games is always a little tastier with a side dish of schadenfreude. The world is full of people who love to hate the New York teams, and Dolan made it all too easy with his hands-on approach. Aided and abetted by GM Isiah Thomas (who was also a little too “hands-on” for his own good), Dolan spent a ton of Cablevision money on marquee players who were well past their primes. In the kind words of outgoing NBA commissioner David Stern, New York was “not a model of intelligent management.”
Here’s how the Knicks performed during those wonderful mid-naughts, starting with Thomas’ first full season as GM:
2004-05: 33-49 SU, 42-40 ATS
2005-06: 23-59 SU, 38-44 ATS
2006-07: 33-49 SU, 39-43 ATS
2007-08: 23-59 SU, 37-44-1 ATS
Truly marvelous work. But it couldn’t last; Thomas was fired, Donnie Walsh took over as GM, and Dolan started assuming a much lower profile behind the scenes. The Knicks have now been to the playoffs three years in a row. They’re not a laughingstock anymore. And fading them with your sports picks? Bad idea:
2010-11: 42-40 SU, 46-34-2 ATS
2011-12: 36-30 SU, 36-30 ATS
2012-13: 54-28 SU, 46-34-2 ATS
So much for schadenfreude. But hey, wouldn’t you have rather had the money from betting on New York these past three years? It’s not such a bad town. The food’s nice.
After all that progress, why have the Knicks gone back to their crazy ways and traded for Andrea Bargnani? This has been hailed as the most bone-headed move of the NBA offseason, throwing a potential stick of dynamite into an already combustible line-up of superstars. But it’s not such a bad move if you’re trying to win a championship this year.
Let’s start with the particulars. Bargnani was acquired from the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Quentin Richardson and three draft picks. This is an expensive trade for the Knicks, with some potential for ramifications down the road. But Camby and Richardson (who was signed to a fresh contract just to be a trade pawn) weren’t going to do much for New York in 2013-14. Novak is an outstanding 3-point shooter (42.5 percent last year), and that’s about it.
As for Bargnani, he had an awful year in 2012-13, limited to 25 starts by an elbow injury and putting up his worst numbers since he was a sophomore. But look at the players he was with in Toronto, and look at who his new teammates are in New York: Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, and Amar’e Stoudemire. Bargnani can play a valuable supporting role for these guys as a shooter and a help defender – yes, Bargnani can play a little defense, just not the in-your-face variety. That’s what Chandler is for.Add some defensive grit and championship experience in Metta World Peace, signed off the amnesty heap for pennies on the dollar, and the Knicks figure to be a better team in 2013-14. But can they keep beating the NBA odds? Until they show signs of falling apart, they haven’t fallen apart yet.