Just before the start training camp last season, Donnie Walsh told ESPN.com’s Chris Sheridan “If we can do the right thing managing our cap, a lot of players will want to play in New York.”
At a press conference announcing the hiring of Mike D’Antoni, Sheridan asked Donnie Walsh what his plan was for the 2010 salary cap. “[W]e’ll figure it out down to the penny”, Walsh replied.
That sentiment didn’t change from the month prior when, during a press conference announcing the start of his own tenure with the Knicks, Walsh stated “I think that in  we’ve got a chance to have flexibility in the cap. So that to me is one thing we’ve got to protect.”
Nothing that Donnie Walsh has done in his tenure has placed in jeopardy, even minutely, his plan.
He traded Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph at the beginning of the 2008 season for cap relief represented by Al Harrington, Tim Thomas, and Cuttino Mobley. He reminded everyone that “It goes back to what I said at my first press conference, I thought we needed to be competitive for two years, then have cap flexibility after…Opening cap space down the road is a big plus on our side…I hope our fans understand. I’m trying to be true to what I said from Day 1.”
For a while, most fans seemed to be aboard, but lately Knicks fans seem to be earning their reputations for impatience. Many of these once patient fans are now in revolt because the Knicks failed to sign Ramon Sessions (!), who has accomplished less in his NBA career than Nate Robinson. Knicks fans wanted Donnie to sign him based on his potential. Isiah Thomas who was rarely right, had a few gems of wisdom. He once said “One major problem is that guys coming into the league today get the multimillion-dollar contracts just for . . . having potential … So the younger guys are denied a lot of incentive to work hard early on because they get the rewards without having to earn them.” (This by the way, is the difference between Sessions and Jason Kidd, the courting of whom by the Knicks may just have been a favor to him and his agent (to garner good will) to get him a bigger contract from the Mavs.)
Sessions could very well be nice and at $4 million might be a bargain. But what is the opportunity cost of that $4 million contract?
RealGM’s Chris Riena projects that the salary cap will either be $50 million, $53 million, or $57 million.
If the cap is $50 million, the Knicks will be able to sign one max free agent and have about $4 million left over. With Sessions signing a $4 million contract, that’s a very dangerous situation to put yourself in if you ask me.
If it’s $53 million, the Knicks will be able to sign one max free agent and another player at $7 million, but if the Knicks signed Sessions, that would go down to $3 million, which does not net you nearly as good a talent as $7 million.
I really don’t want to be in a position where I’m saying “If only we didn’t sign Sessions we could’ve afforded LeBron James.”
If the cap is $57 million the Knicks would be able to sign a max free agent and $11 million sidekick, whether it be Josh Howard, Raymond Felton, Richard Jefferson (who has an option), or RFA’s Rudy Gay, or Rajon Rondo. Signing Sessions this summer would have cut that number to $7 million and taken the Knicks out of the conversation for many of these borderline all-stars. Reasonable people can disagree as to whether Sessions is preferable to any of them. In my opinion, I’m not convinced he is.
I think that is ample perspective on the Sessions strike-out, but there is more. Come 2011, the Knicks will have tons of cap room even after signing a max free agent in 2010, with Jared Jeffries and Eddy Curry coming off the cap. The Knicks can sign another max-player in 2011 and comfortably trade some of their youth for an all-star caliber, or at least an above-average, point guard.
No, it’s not an instant gratification plan, as was so often employed by Isiah Thomas, who also once said that it is impossible to rebuild in New York. For him it was. But for Walsh it isn’t. This is a GM who will stick to his plan no matter what the fans, who will thank him one day, think.