Ian Thomsen, SI.com
Good Lord, it can't be true that Knicks' owner James L. Dolan is trying to acquire Steve Francis.
Doesn't Dolan realize that adding to the Knicks payroll is the problem, not the answer? The Knicks' reconstruction has to begin sometime, and adding someone like Francis isn't a step in that direction.
You know what would be terrific? If all of the daily rumors and innuendo of blockbuster trades threatening to deliver Francis or Kenyon Martin or another high-salary, high-maintenance savior to New York turned out to be a deception, a ruse behind which the Knicks have been camouflaging their true intentions. Which they then would reveal before next Thursday's deadline by trading Jamal Crawford or Malik Rose (or both, or any other veteran on their roster) for younger players, shorter contracts or future draft picks.
But that hasn't been the Knicks' way. Dolan has responded to every calamity by acquiring more expensive players. He has hiked the Knicks' payroll to an NBA-record $126 million based on a hysterically flawed theory that fans in New York will not accept a losing team trying to rebuild. Now he's given them something far worse: A loser that will need years to desconstruct before it can be rebuilt.
People blame team president Isiah Thomas for the Knicks' payroll, but he's simply following orders. (Or do you think he racks up a $60 million luxury tax bill all on his own?) It's clear that Dolan's heart is in the right place because he has proved in the most expensive way imaginable that he wants to win. He probably imagined that money could buy him love, that at the very least fans would appreciate his gross generosity.
But the smartest fans despise Dolan for his ignorance. The worst irony of the Knicks' dilemma is that they would be in far better shape today with a skinflint owner, because a low-payroll team can be rebuilt far more quickly than this garish mess. The cheap, young Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks are far more promising than the bloated Knicks.
If Dolan suddenly changed course, would the Knicks be worse? They couldn't be. Would he have to change his administration? No, because Thomas is one of the league's best draft evaluators (see Tracy McGrady and Channing Frye) and coach Larry Brown loves to teach. Will the fans be angry? Not if they see young players attacking at both ends and showing improvement -- the opposite of what they're seeing now.
The more Dolan spends, the less he is respected. Remember how Cleveland's notorious owner Ted Stepien ruined the Cleveland Cavaliers inn the 1970s by trading away their future draft picks? Dolan is the Stepien of this generation: The patsy who mortgaged the Knicks' future by spending incoherently.
Imagine if next Thursday he embarked on a two-year plan to make the Knicks younger, sleeker and promising? If he talked about looking in the mirror and recognizing his own mistakes?
Now imagine the opposite. Another big trade, more overpaid players. The same hopeless results.
There is no leadership on New York's roster, and it's the one commodity the Knicks can't buy. Even if they were able to acquire a veteran leader like Eric Snow or Shane Battier, the impact would be negligible. The players currently in the Knicks locker room work for an owner who overpays them without demanding performance in return. It's a culture of entitlement that isn't going to change unless it's changed by the owner.
Someday Dolan is either going to have to change his ways or sell the team to somebody who can. He should change today.
Not wanting to follow the Knicks off the luxury-tax cliff, the 76ers have put the word out that they're willing to consider proposals for anybody. A few weeks ago there was talk within the 76ers camp of making a run at Seattle's Ray Allen, but the idea didn't go far -- not only is Allen not available, but it's hard to imagine that the Sonics would be interested in taking Allen Iverson in return. He doesn't fit in with the cleancut, buttoned-down image that owner Howard Schultz has created in Seattle since the departure of Gary Payton.
Iverson and coach Maurice Cheeks had their first argument in front of the team last Sunday after a frustrating loss at Washington, but someone who was there says that Iverson has since tried to show he meant no harm by showing up for practice earlier and going out of his way to demonstrate there are no hard feelings.
Are the 76ers ready to take a deep breath and trade Iverson? All indications are that they'll get through this season before dismantling the roster and starting over. They're a tax-paying team with more than $47 million committed next season to Iverson, Chris Webber and Samuel Dalembert, a trio that isn't in synch. It's going to be an extended rebuilding process because they probably can't get equal value back for Webber and Iverson, and there are big doubts that second-year swingman Andre Iguodala can score enough to develop into a franchise player.
THE DARKO TRADE
Five thoughts on Detroit's decision to unload Darko Milicic and Carlos Arroyo to Orlando for the expiring $8.7 million contract of Kelvin Cato and Orlando's top-five protected pick in this year's draft:
1. The Pistons essentially are trading Milicic for Ben Wallace. The room created by Cato's expiring number enables them to re-sign Wallace this summer and keep their starting five intact, a major accomplishment in an era when Shaquille O'Neal, Steve Nash and Joe Johnson walked away from contenders for financial reasons.
2. Was drafting Milicic with the No. 2 pick a mistake by the Pistons? Yes, in the sense that Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade -- the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 picks in the 2003 draft -- have turned into stars. The reality is that they probably would have taken Anthony instead with the No. 2 pick, and he surely would have eaten into Tayshaun Prince's role while disrupting the chemistry of a finely-balanced team that went to the last two NBA Finals. Then the Pistons would have faced another potentially divisive decision of which players to dump in the next wave of contracts, because they couldn't afford to keep Anthony as well as their current starting five. Taken altogether, the decision on Milicic may go down as the most successful bad pick in NBA history.
3. The Pistons considered asking for the rights to 6-10 forward Fran Vasquez instead of Orlando's upcoming draft pick, but his refusal to leave Spain and join the Magic as their No. 10 pick raised too many questions about whether he'll ever make the commitment to the NBA.
4. Milicic couldn't be entering a better situation. Because the Magic gave up so little for him he no longer has to live up to the expectations of the No. 2 pick. The Magic will be happy if the emerges as a secondary option alongside Dwight Howard, who will occupy the opponent's best defender and make life relatively easy for Milicic.
5. Now it really makes sense for the Magic to trade Francis as they build a team to begin peaking around Howard in a couple of years. All they need to net in return for Francis is a couple of solid players, including a younger wing scorer who doesn't have to fill Francis's sneakers as the No. 1 star in Orlando.
The high price of victory
Which teams are getting the most for their money?
The average cost per victory, as of Wednesday, was $2.4 million (based on player salaries totaling $1.88 billion this season divided by the 777 games played thus far).
The leader is no surprise: The Pistons are spending $1.4 million per victory, followed closely by the third-place Spurs at $1.6 million per win.
But this table gives new perspective to the miraculous season the Hornets are having in Oklahoma City: They emerge as the second most efficient team in the league, based on their 28-23 record in spite of the NBA's second-lowest payroll (thank you, Chris Paul).
San Antonio and other franchises pay attention to this ratio with the ultimate goal of spending less than $1 million per win by the end of the season. Based on current winning percentages, only the Pistons, Hornets and Spurs are on track to limbo under the $1 million level.
This ratio also suggests that it's OK to spend big as long as you win big. Dallas' $94 million payroll is second only to New York's, yet the Mavericks are more efficient than half of the league because their expensive talent produces results.
Then consider the Knicks, who are lumped with Charlotte at the bottom of the East standings while hemmorhaging $93 million more than the Bobcats in payroll.
Understand why the Pacers will be looking to trim payroll this summer? They and the Lakers are the only winning teams who rank near the bottom in terms of payroll efficiency. Only three teams are netting a smaller return on their investment than the Pacers.
In another thread, some old-timers are trying to make the case that today's players lack fundamentals and don't play an intelligent brand of basketball.
I'm certain they're watching a tape of Steve Francis as they are typing.
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