Drinking the Kool Aide
Plus, a look at one Knicks' partnership that clearly doesn't work
In this newsletter…
We’re all friends here, right?
And you can tell your friends the truth, yes? Even if the truth hurts?
I hope so, because I need to engage in some truth tellin’ to start this one out. I’ll just come right out with all of it if that’s OK, like ripping off a bandaid:
Truth 1: All of my previously strongly held beliefs about tanking are officially up in the air.
Truth 2: I’m still on the fence about the Leon Rose hire, and feel like every positive thought is another sip of Classic Knicks Kool-Aide, and…
Truth 3: Seeing this made my goddamn day:
As Twitter user @BenchWarmerPost pointed out, this is the exact same thing Jimmy Butler tweeted out right before things went south in Philly and Butler departed to sunnier pastures.
If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that I’m more than a bit conflicted about star chasing, which brings me to Truth # 2. Star chasing is not a sound organizational philosophy, not unless you can back it up with top notch systems in place across the board. Butler’s new home has perfected this better than anyone.
On the other hand, anyone who doesn’t think you need stars to win in the NBA is kidding themselves. You have to have them, and a lot of times, a star can 180 the perception of a lot of the other things you already have in place. As I’ve pointed out, national media people have been climbing over themselves to praise every mouse fart coming out of Memphis since the summer, but would any of it matter if they didn’t jump the Knicks by one spot in the lottery? Or, put differently: if the order was inverted, would the Grizzlies be getting killed by those same pundits for not tanking hard enough?
Which leads us to Truth # 1:
@_Prezidente over at P&T wrote a really thoughtful piece on how the Knicks need to approach the rest of this season. I recommend you read it in full, but in short, if I want to tip the “winning with vets / playing the kid” scales by 15 or 20%, he’s closer to 50%:
I agree with most of what he says, although I’m always dubious anytime someone offers strategic tanking (my words, not his) as a plan for the immediate future, let alone to set up something a year and a half away.
That said, math is math, odds are odds, and more ping pong balls are better than fewer. Last year’s lottery threw us all of the scent, but it still does behoove your chances to finish with more losses than not.
That said, I still can’t ever bring myself to root for the Knicks not to win (sorry, but logic be damned, I just don’t have it in me), but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some modicum of common sense.
That common sense eluded me yesterday when I was discussing the Hawks loss, mostly because I wrote a bunch of words about their issues in this game and only tiptoed around big, bad Julius Randle. That’s because it’s hard to be critical of a guy who finishes with 35 points (on only 25 shots) and 18 boards.
But I didn’t take this job because it was easy, and when I see stuff like this…
…I’m reminded that despite his obvious talent, if Julius Randle is the answer, we’re asking the wrong questions.
Randle’s not the only culprit for the lack of easy buckets on this team, but he is the primary one, and he’s a walking reminder that winning doesn’t always translate to positive development. The Knicks probably never sniff OT if he doesn’t play in Atlanta, but is that really the worst thing?
On top of the continued hero ball, there’s also the small matter of Julius Randle and RJ Barrett mixing together like oil and water. Sure, the pairing has been better under Miller (negative 5.6 net rating) than under Fiz (negative 10.1), but that improvement is more or less commensurate with the team’s improved play overall.
That’s also not to say Julius is completely to blame. With Randle on the court and RJ off, the team has been downright better than average, with a slightly positive net rating. Yet during the 466 possessions Barrett has been on the court without Julius, the Knicks are getting smoked by over 20 points per 100 possessions according to Cleaning the Glass.
And really, this is to be expected. RJ may never be the engine for a good NBA offense, let alone get there as a teenaged rookie. Asking him to carry the load without a single other creator on the floor is a lot.
It also doesn’t mean the pairing should be long for this world. Maybe this is just me, but I’ve had the vibe all season that these two aren’t exactly enamored with each other. I don’t think it’s anything personal, but when a teenager comes in with a ton of attention and praise, and the guy who was supposed to be the alpha dog on this team ends up becoming the primary target of many fans’ ire, well…do the math.
Barrett does need help and support as he grows up in in a grown man’s league, but Randle clearly isn’t it…which brings us back to Embiid, and of course, to Leon Rose.
(I don’t know if Rose is the one in the Giant Brain Chair here, but I sure hope he is)
Embiid is, of course, still represented by Rose at CAA, at least until we get the official announcement that he’s taking the Knicks job. Randle is also a CAA guy. Ben Simmons, on the other hand, is a Klutch client, as is Mitchell Robinson, who switched agents last week and would almost certainly be the centerpiece of any trade for Embiid.
If you’re reading and growing increasingly angry because you feel like this newsletter is the one place you can come for Knicks content without the baseless speculation, I hear you, and frankly, don’t blame you. This isn’t the kind of tomfoolery I like to engage in either.
I also don’t think we should be kidding ourselves. My guess – and this is just a guess – is that a 58-year-old Rose doesn’t take this job unless he has a decent feeling about what could transpire over the coming months and/or years.
(More Kool Aide here…I need MORE KOOL AIDE!!!)
But for as much as I’m double-fisting the red stuff, it’s not like we haven’t seen this sort of thing happen before.
I went back and re-read the section on Leon Rose and the Decision in Powerhouse, James Andrew Miller’s excellent oral history of CAA. In it, he says flatly that Rose “had been planning the ‘Big Three’ moment for years.”
Of the Miami coup, CAA sports co-czar Michael Levine said the following:
“We didn’t make them friends, but that summer, we had the ability to help them communicate in real time, help them evaluate the possibilitities, and to talk through the potential upside of being together. At the end of the day, they themselves decided it would be fun to play together, and so that is what they did.”
Pat Riley added that “CAA had a lot of impact on the deal. Howie [Nuchow, the other CAA sports chief] allows his agents to work in the best interest of their clients, but I’m sure he had a lot of influence behind the scenes.”
There’s also the fact that the Knicks are in a unique position of having $30 million worth of salary (Taj, Wayne, Elf & Reggie) that is non-guaranteed for next year. According to Spotrac.com, each of those players have guarantee dates on June 28, 2020 - after the draft but before free agency.
This leaves the Knicks as the only team in the league able to take in both Embiid and Al Horford while also giving the Sixers massive cap flexibility this summer. Horford, by the way, is represented by longtime Knick buddy Bill Duffy, who just so happens to represent one RJ Barrett.
My oh my, the tangled webs we weave…
Of course, none of this matters in the slightest if Philly figures it out, wins the whole damn thing, and we watch the Embiid / Simmons dynasty bloom before our very eyes, at least until they have their inevitable Shaq & Kobe moment. Alternatively, if Miami ever put Bam Adebayo on the table, whatever Embiid Sweepstakes ever develops would be very short-lived.
Again: star-chasing can’t be an organizational philosophy. Who Leon Rose hires as the next GM of this team (how much that pairing is allowed to hire and fire people without any strings attached) is more important than any pre-existing relationships Rose brings to his job.
In an ideal world, he brings his clout, improves the organization internally, and we can have our cake and eat it too.
With a side of Kool-Aide, of course.
What the hell…let’s have some fun.
And to a certain extent, that’s true. He’s missed 16 games, most of which came recently after a hand injury that had his finger looking like a 90 degree ruler. He shoots way too many threes (nearly four a game) for someone who makes only one out of every three. His scoring average is down almost five points from last year. His effort waxes and wanes.
But he is, in no uncertain terms, one of the five best players in the NBA, and I would argue the most dominant two-way force in basketball when he wants to be. Eight players have a usage rate above 30 and a true shooting percentage above 58, and he’s one of them, even in a down year. The Sixers are outscoring teams by 4.3 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court and are nearly dead even when he’s off - a discrepancy that is far lower than it has been in years’ past, but impressive nonetheless.
A lot of people gave me a lot of shit when I said I didn’t want the Knicks to trade for Ben Simmons. Simmons is a wonderful player, probably top-15 at his best, who puts forth max effort every minute he plays. He’s also a primary ball handler who either can’t or won’t shoot, which is an archetype I’m not sure you can ever win with in the playoffs.
During Winnin’ Time, Embiid is simply a different animal. Remember that in the Sixers’ seven-game series against the eventual world champion Raptors, Philly outscored Toronto by eighty-nine points during the minutes Embiid was on the floor. That is insane.
If Elton Brand is selling this offseason, the Knicks should be buying, as should you… maybe not for immediate return, but as a worthy long term investment (which hopefully ends up in a Knicks uniform).
If this is your first investment in PredictionStrike, remember to use code KFS when signing up to get $10 added to your first investment of $10 or more.
Jeremy and I hashed it out over Leon Rose and the Knicks path over the rest of this season and moving forward.
News & Notes
I want to use this space to highlight a couple of pieces from yesterday by Knick fans on the interwebs that I thought were particularly good.
First, here’s a piece by Geoffrey Rassmusen (@GeoffRas22) about the Knicks’ trifecta of Frank Ntilikina, Damyan Dotson and Mithell Robinson, and why we should probably see a lot more of it before the end of this season:
“…together, these three have proven to be a formidable foe for opposing offenses. In the 139 minutes Ntilikina, Dotson, and Robinson have played together the Knicks have a 94.9 DRTG (they're allowing 94.9 pts per 100 possessions). For context, the Milwaukee Bucks lead the NBA, far and away, with a 101.5 DRTG. Now, obviously I don't think that this is the best defensive trio in the league---the sample size is still relatively small and I'd imagine a large % of their minutes have come against opposing benches---but, still, to perform at a rate that would be, easily, the best defense in the league, regardless what other two players share the court, is meaningful.”
Again, click here for the full post.
The second piece is from Ken T, who is a little more dubious of the Leon Rose/CAA effect than I am, but nonetheless shares my concerns about the ways this hire could go terribly wrong. I think it’s a worthwhile viewpoint:
Other news and notes from yesterday, compiled as always by Michael Schatz (@mschatz99):
Carmelo Anthony weighs in with BR’s Sean Highkin on the Leon Rose hire.
David Fizdale says he should have been tougher on the kids. OK.
Finally, according to Marc Berman, with Leon Rose at the helm the Knicks may try to party like it’s nine-teen ninety-nine with their coaching search.
That’s it…see everyone tomorrow!