If You Think The 2010 Plan Is Just About LeBron, You Don’t Know How Deep This Rabbit Hole Goes

Updated 12:04

In a little less than two years, Donnie Walsh did what everyone thought was impossible. He traded away the likes of Zach Randolph, Jamal Crawford and Jared Jeffries, all grossly overpaid. Was he able to improve the team in his tenure? Well, the record will most likely not improve from last year’s, but Donnie’s presidency has so far been about accomplishing two goals. One was cleaning away the messes of the previous regime. Another was making his own mark.

The first is a precursor for the second. Just as Isiah systematically removed every Layden player from the Knicks roster and then remade it, Donnie Walsh has wiped out all remnants of the Isiah era except Lee, Chandler and Curry, the latter not for a lack of trying. He told you all along that he would do this and that he would do it in time to sell the idea of playing at the Garden to arguably one of the best players to ever play the game. Even if that one player does not choose to suit up in the orange and blue, the Knicks will be able to make a run at other guys who would be at home amongst legendary forerunners. This is where the imagination of many Knicks fans probably ends. Anything short of nabbing one or more of the big 3 free agents would be a failure to them.

But this terminal point in the imagination of some is also probably where Donnie’s imagination starts. If Donnie doesn’t execute plan A, I have no idea what he will do. But there is one thing I doubt he will do and that I hope he does not do: overspend for lesser “stars”. Donnie Walsh should not give Joe Johnson the max. He shouldn’t give Rudy Gay $10 million. He shouldn’t give Carlos Boozer $11 or $12 million. He shouldn’t spend all his money for the sake of spending it.

I know what you’re thinking: If the Knicks don’t spend every single penny they earned through the trades (about $10 million) then they wasted Jordan Hill and a draft pick (some in the blogosphere and in the media sensationalize and assert imprecisely, that the Knicks will have wasted “three picks”). To an extent, you might have a point. Obviously the Knicks could have let Jeffries simply come off the cap in 2011 and retained Hill and the one future pick they traded. But that would have given them less of a chance at LeBron James and a max buddy. It would have diminished the chances for the plan to succeed.

There are reasons to maintain the cap space instead of spending it unwisely aside from just the welfare of plan A though: The benefits of cap space do not vanish if you don’t use it all at once. Sure, the gamble in the trade was primarily about 2010 but if 2010 doesn’t work out it doesn’t follow that Donnie should sabotage 2011 and beyond. If the alternatives are to preserve cap space or spend it all on Rudy Gay the Knicks would be better off preserving it, regardless of the heavy sacrifice they made to get that extra $10 million a year early.

Detroit lost the gamble last year. They traded Chauncey Billups for cap space. They didn’t come away with any star free agents. But instead of preserving the cap space that they freed, they felt they needed to justify the trade. They compounded their gambling loss by taking on two long term contracts for role players (Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva). It destroyed their cap flexibility and gave them little room to improve. Had they been patient they could have had max money this summer. Instead they’ll be at the cap.

So then where does that leave the Knicks?

Even without LeBron, the cap space gives Donnie infinite options. The Thunder used their cap space this year to absorb Matt Harpring’s contract and for their trouble were able to pry Eric Maynor away from the Jazz. Would the cash-strapped Hornets part with Darren Collison to lose the last year of Morris Peterson’s contract? Conceivably. How badly would the perennially in-the-red Pacers want to shed TJ Ford’s last year? Enough to part with a lottery pick? I’m sure Detroit would like to get out from under Tayshaun Prince. Would the Warriors be desperate enough to unload Vladimir Radmanovic that they would let go of…who am I kidding on that one (a man can dream, but I think they realize they have a superstar in the making at the 1).

A lot of people rag on James Dolan and deservedly so. He’s clearly been a destructive force for most of his reign. One good trait that he possesses from a fan’s standpoint though is that he has never been afraid to spend money if he’s convinced it will help the team win. In the past he’s been convinced that it was a good idea to spend it on Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry and Steve Francis, but it wasn’t Donnie doing the convincing. And that’s why its also a blessing that Dolan swims around in cash like Scrooge McDuck. With cap flexibility the Knicks can be a predatory team like the Thunder that turns cap space into first round picks by absorbing a year of Kurt Thomas, or into Eric Maynor by absorbing a year of Matt Harpring. Donnie has been distinguished from the likes of Sam Presti but the two may have more in common that a facial glance might reveal.

There are so many other options too including Lee sign and trade scenarios, thousands of combinations of outright signings, and other possibilities that I can’t list because only a seasoned hand like Donnie Walsh can fathom them.

Don’t be short-sighted by declaring this summer the end-all-be-all of the Knicks rebuild. There’s the simple plan. But if that fails, there are other plans. When it comes to those other plans, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Donnie is one of the few people who knows his away around the rabbit hole.

***“[W]hat I do not know I do not think that I know either.” –The Apology of Socrates***


  1. EwingOak

    Very nicely written. Very nice. It’s a very good outlook and something that all Knicks fans should be aware and prepared for. So many possibilities and nothing will happen overnight (I hope).

    If no Lebron, as much as that would be dissappointing for so many, there would be so many other options. Interesting that the Legends Night was just the other night and it really makes you think about how well a team can do if it’s constructed the right way, playing the right way… Not necessarily needing the best player in the world, but the best team concept and heart.

    Good stuff, Dan L. Good stuff.

  2. Italian Stallion

    Well written article.

    The issue with a failure to sign an elite player in 2010 is not that we won’t have some backup plan that can still make us a very good team in 2010 and beyond. It’s that we suffered for the last two years under Walsh and D’Antoni specifically to make cap space for “2010” because of the elite FAs available exclusively in “2010” and that we’ve given up some of the future to get here.

    Without signing an elite player in 2010, IMO ALL Walsh’s efforts here to date are a failure because Crawford, Randolph, Jeffries and Curry all come off the cap after next year anyway.

    We could have done absolutely nothing but add Gallo, Hill and Douglas, kept the picks and Hill, and been in a great position in 2011. Plus we probably would have had a better team over the last 2 years with Zach and Crawford instead of Harrington, Mobley, Hughes etc…

    To me, it doesn’t matter that we will still be in good shape regardless of whether we sign an elite FA in 2010 or not.

    What Walsh has done is put us into a position to gamble big on 2010. If we win he is a huge hero. If we lose there’s no way to spin it favorably even though some in the media and the Knicks organization will try to.

    Personally, I would have had the same initial plan, but I might have adjusted it as the probabilities of landing one of the big 3 changed (because IMO they are now worse than they were before)





    • Dan L

      You have a solid argument but I have to disagree that it’d be a failure if they didn’t sign an elite player this summer. The chief goal, the plan A, was to do so. But just because you could have built a good team without shedding contracts and a few long term assets in the way that Donnie shed them doesn’t mean the plan failed. It still put you in a position to have the flexibility the post talks about.

      The additional price to do it in 2010 was a potential playoff appearance or two (6-8 seed) a draft pick, and Jordan Hill. It is unknowable, at least right now, what those assets would have turned into. They might have only led to a marginal long term improvement or none at all vs. doing nothing and keeping them over the long term. At least for now, it’s impossible to know. The only thing that is knowable is that the Knicks didn’t make the playoffs and they might have. So it really depends on how much you value two potential playoff appearances that would likely be sweeps.

      I’d gladly give up all of the that for just the chance at LeBron. If Plan A fails, well, you’re in the same spot anyway but without a pick and Jordan Hill and two potential early round exit playoff appearances.

      It’s not the end of the world and the pick is replaceable, not just through outright purchase but through a cap space trade. If you don’t get LeBron you still jump start the rebuild in earnest and you can do it like Presti did it but a year earlier. So yes, I concede that some of the value the Knicks gave up was to get started a year earlier, if they don’t get LeBron. But that is a worthy goal in itself and wouldn’t, to me, amount to a failure.

      The key is to not waste the cap space when you have it.

      I also disagree that the probability of landing one of the big 3 changed for the worse.

      Also not sure why you included those links. I know Memphis, Atlanta and Houston have our former guys but I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

      • CeeLARock

        We all want Lebron this summer but if it dosent happen and we sign 2 Class B free agents with giving up A money did we lose or was it unssucessful i think not. Look at who becoming free agents the next 2 yrs cp3 and Melo..

        If we keep Lee and build around Galo and Chandler +2 class b free agents (if no LBJ) and sign a starting pg would that be a teammaking a deep playoff run???then the year after sign a Melo or CP3…
        I am sorry Jordan Hill was a bad draft pick and he is not going to be no star and right now =Tony D aint nothing to write home about..

        • Italian Stallion

          I think if we sign two very good FAs at fair prices in 2010, but don’t use all our cap money, then the Zach and Crawford trades were OK because they allowed us to get equal or higher quality players that we want for the long term one year sooner (they would have come off the cap in 2011). However, the Jeffries trade will then look like a failure because we gave up assets and will have nothing to show for until 2011 when Jeffries would have come off anyway.

      • Italian Stallion

        I guess we are never going to see eye to eye on this.

        To me, if you want to evaluate a trade or series of trades you have to look at the end result of what you’ve done vs. the end result if you had done nothing at all.

        The only thing Walsh has accomplished over and above what a 6 year could have accomplished is put us into a position to land some marquee free agents in 2010 instead of waiting until 2011 to make some moves. To do so, he made us worse in 2008 and 2009 by trading Zach and Crawford for lesser players and by trading Hill and draft picks recently.

        The end result will be what we come out of this summer with relative to what we might have done in 2011 with the same cap money, Hill and picks.

        It might be tough to evaluate that clearly, but I’m sure we’ll all have opinions in a few months. IMO, if we come out of it with some marginal all stars and cap money for 2011, it would all have been a waste of time.

      • Italian Stallion

        BY the way, I totally agree that if we can’t land solid pieces at fair prices in 2010 we should not spend the money. The difference is that I will judge that to be a failure even if it’s a smart move.

        By the way, I provided the links to show you that Crawford and Zachs money comes off the cap in 2011 just like Jeffries. So we would have the same money available in 2011 that we will have now if we kept Isiah and just gagged him and threw him in a closet so he couldn’t do anything stupid. :)

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