Back then, Isiah Thomas was running the franchise into the ground and getting his employer, Madison Square Garden, sued in federal court.
That was five years ago and since then, Donnie Walsh and Glen Grunwald have both done wonders for the credibility of the general manager’s office over at 2 Penn Plaza. But one thing that forever seems to ring true for the Knicks is that nothing ever comes easy.
No deal, no acquisition — not even for a 38-year old free agent center.
In professional sports, the GM with the bifocals will win. You’ve got to be able to see the bigger picture and you can’t be so blinded by optimism that you don’t objectively evaluate everything.
So that’s my challenge to you.
On Monday night, news broke that the Knicks agreed in principle to execute a sign-and-trade deal with the Houston Rockets for Marcus Camby. Camby is scheduled to earn $13.2 million over three years, but only $10 million is guaranteed.
In return, the Knicks agree to trade Toney Douglas, Josh Harrellson, Jerome Jordan, and the Knicks’ own second-round draft picks in 2014 and 2015. As a part of the deal, the Knicks will also send the Rockets $2 million in cash.
With Jason Kidd—whom the Knicks agreed to terms with last Thursday—and Camby, the Knicks have fortified their reserve unit and have unquestionably upgraded their talent base. Though Kidd (39) and Camby (38) are each closing in on their 40th birthdays, neither will be expected to play heavy minutes and are upgrades over Baron Davis and Jared Jeffries—the men who emerged as last year’s primary reserves.
So, that’s the good news.
But the Knicks had few trade assets before agreeing to the Camby deal and have almost no assets remaining after executing it.
And since the Knicks aren’t expected to match the three-year, $20 million offer sheet that the Toronto Raptors extended to Landry Fields, they’re probably in need of another wing player.
The Miami Heat won the NBA championship with Joel Anthony as their starting center and the Oklahoma City Thunder won the Western Conference with Kendrick Perkins. The truth is, in today’s NBA, you don’t need a great center to be successful, and few teams have two very good centers.
Although the Knicks now do, they still lack a center or power forward who can consistently score points in the post, and the Knicks will probably struggle to score if Camby and Chandler play together.
So while Camby provides a good insurance policy in the event of an injury to Chandler, he is a luxury.
A 38-year old luxury who just so happens to be a free agent.
Earlier this month, it became known that Camby would not be returning to the Rockets and was gauging the market to determine his demand. During the last week, it was clear that the three most likely landing spots for Camby were with the Knicks, Nets, and Heat. Initially, it was thought that the Miami Heat was his preferred destination since he would have presumably been their starting center, but that option fell through after the Heat used their mini-midlevel exception to sign Ray Allen.
Daryl Morey, the Rockets’ general manager, wasn’t interested in executing a sign-and-trade deal with the Heat, so Camby’s only means to end up in South Beach was to accept the veteran’s minimum salary of about $1.4 million from the Heat. Camby, though, let it be known that he was looking for a richer payday, and I got word earlier on Monday that the Miami Heat conceded that they couldn’t afford Camby and turned their attention to wooing free agent Rashard Lewis.
The Nets were said to have interest in Camby, but its brass has been so busy trying to pry Dwight Howard away from the Orlando Magic that their recruiting pitch wasn’t even delivered in-person; they called Camby on the phone.
Morey was in a position of weakness. He had a 38-year old free agent who was poised to defect and only one team with whom he could make a deal and salvage some assets in return. Yet somehow, in typical Knicks fashion, they ended up needlessly surrendering the balance of their limited assets for a player that they didn’t really need.
Initially, I was somewhat surprised at the fact that nobody in the media seemed perplexed by the Knicks giving the Rockets three prospects, two draft picks, and $2 million for a player that the Rockets were prepared to lose for nothing. And when I took to Twitter to gauge the reaction of Knicks fans, I was abused.
Surprisingly, despite evidence to the contrary over recent years, I was told second round picks are worthless. Never mind the fact that Trevor Ariza, Landry Fields, and Harrellson—the prospect most Knicks fans were saddest to lose—were all second-round picks. And never mind the fact that the Knicks already traded their 2013 second round draft pick and 2014 first round draft pick in prior deals.
Second round picks, I was told, are a dime a dozen!
That is, until you realize, that the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement limits the aggregate amount of cash a team sends out per year at $3 million. And if you don’t think teams have paid over $1 million for a second round draft pick, guess again.
So, today, the Knicks have two less draft picks, $2 million less cash, and—depending on how you view Toney Douglas—one less $2 million expiring contract that could have been used to address more glaring needs.
Whether you like it or not, the Knicks gave away their assets in this deal, and from where I sit, it looks like they did so needlessly.
In all fairness to Grunwald, the Knicks got the best player in the trade, and they can probably fill out the roster with veterans to compete in the East.
But for a 38-year old free agent who was leaving anyway, Grunwald shouldn’t have had to submit so many of his limited assets to Morey.
At the end of the day, the Knicks overpaid for a player they didn’t really need and it’s reminiscent of the way they overpaid for Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, and the same way Isiah Thomas overpaid for Jerome James, Eddy Curry, and Stephon Marbury.
The bright side in all of this? Camby isn’t a max-salaried player and his deal is only for three years.
Even still, for the Knicks, overpaying and underachieving has become a way of life.
Whether or not next season will be any different remains to be seen.
Moke Hamilton is a Senior NBA Columnist for SheridanHoops.com and will be providing the latest news and commentary during the NBA’s free-agency period. Follow him on Twitter to stay up-to date.