With LeBron James tearing up the league, Kevin Garnett showing his first real signs of aging, and a Western Conference with one King and seven princes, the matchup in this year's 2009 NBA Finals is already a foregone conclusion to most fans. In fact, before KG's injury, one betting website offered this promotion:
Bet on any team except the Lakers to win the Championship (up to $50) and, if the Lakers win, we will fully reimburse your bet.
The logic? Simple. If you weren't betting on the Lakers, you were betting on one of two teams—Boston or Cleveland. So let's say the wagering goes pretty much 50-50 on those two teams; half the population pick the Cavs, the other the Celtics.
If either one of those teams wins the Finals, the site breaks about even by collecting the losing half and paying it out to the winning half. If the Lakers win, it is as if nothing happened.
The promotion ran until Apr. 17. The news that KG was done for the year hit the wire on Apr. 16. Now just picture the chaos for that particular Web site...
Getting back to my point, this year's power struggle in the Association has been a contest between the three aforementioned teams. But one team, which has not even made the playoffs in almost a decade, could have been a formidable contender in what is now a one-team race in the East:
The New York Knicks.
Knicks fans, let us all now take a moment to lament what has become of the organization. Sure, we have seen some big names like Latrell Sprewell, Allan Houston (H20 is still one of my all-time favorite basketball nicknames), Steve Francis...ummm, Antonio McDyess...uhhh...Keith...Van...Horn? Jerome...(sigh)...Jerome James?!
OK, well we have at least seen our fair share of legendary coaches. Lenny Wilkins, Larry Brown, Don Nelson, hell even Jeff VanGundy was a pretty damn good NBA coach (and apparently never fell off a rope in his life, just ask Alonzo Mourning). But no question the runs each of these men had was less than legendary.
So we've pinned players and coaches so far. But the two men Knicks fans will forever point the finger to for this span of not-even-mediocrity watched it all happen in Armani suits and Gucci boots. Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas.
You want to know what got me thinking for this article? I was pondering the legitimacy of Denver's No. 2 seed in the West. I thought to myself, "Portland has the best size to match up with Bynum and Gasol, and they are playing great basketball right now."
Then I said, "Nene had an amazing season defensively for Denver, but he may not be enough. Birdman (Chris Anderson) gets his fair share of blocks and rebounds, but he's no Marcus Camby. If those two were still together, that would really give them a shot...wait a minute..."
That's right Knicks fans. Seventh overall pick, 2002 NBA Draft. Marcus Camby. Nene. Antonio McDyess. "Fire Layden!" Is this all ringing a bell?
Not only had Knicks fans not gotten the player they wanted (Caron Butler, a native New Yorker, was still on the board and was much more well-known than Nene), they had drafted Nene and instantly traded him along with Marcus Camby to Denver for the brittle Antonio McDyess.
The same McDyess who had played in only 10 games the previous season.
Was that not enough of a red flag? And was it worth it to trade two defensive big men for one smaller, older, and more injury-prone one just to sell a couple more jerseys? Ask Knicks fans that question now...
What did the Knicks do when he blew out his knee in the preseason? They traded him for Stephon Marbury, starting another saga in New York. But here is something many Knicks fans have forgotten about that trade.
Two first-round picks were given up, the first of which was traded to the Celtics who picked Rajon Rondo. In case you haven't noticed, Rondo is a beast, and a point guard is exactly what the Knicks need right now. So chalk that one up for Team Thomayden.
The other pick, however, will not come into play unless the Knicks do not make the playoffs next year. Included in the Marbury deal was a lottery-protected first-round pick. The Suns eventually traded the pick to the Utah Jazz (essentially for Tom Gugliotta).
Next year, however, the pick is unprotected, so if the Knicks fail to reach the playoffs they will be handing over a lottery pick to Utah. Yet another slam dunk for the dynamic duo.
I forgot about the idea to write this article until later that day. I turned on the Lakers-Jazz game, expecting to see an exhibition being put on by Kobe Bryant.
There was indeed a show taking place, but Kobe was not the host. You know who it was? Take a second...Trevor Ariza. That's right, the same Trevor Ariza who rode the bench in New York while the Knicks lost seemingly every night. The same Trevor Ariza who was shipped to Orlando for another salary cap mortality, Steve Francis.
You know, "Stevie Franchise." The guy who never lived up to the hype around a guy with that nickname, a guy who demanded he be traded while walking up to put on his Vancouver Grizzlies hat on Draft Day. That guy.
I'll give Isiah credit, he did—and probably still does—have an eye for talent. He has drafted some good players—David Lee, Nate Robinson, Renaldo Balkman (he is a good player, regardless of what you say), Ariza—but he has never understood the concept of a team.
He has never understood the philosophy of building team from the ground up and not just capsizing it with overpaid "me-first" players. Which is why the Eddy Curry trade is his masterpiece, his symphony.
Knicks get: Eddy Curry and Antonio Davis.
Bulls get: Knicks' 2006 First Rounder, Knicks' 2007 and 2009 Second Rounders, Tim Thomas, Mike Sweetney, and the right to swap 2007's first round pick with the Knicks.
Translated into present day, the Bulls package is Tim Thomas, Sweetney, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah, and this year's second rounder (the second round pick in 2007 was traded numerous times before it ended up being Demetris Nichols, who was actually shipped back to the Knicks on a draft day trade).
Now, had the Knicks still had Nene and Camby, odds are they would not have drafted Thomas and Noah. However, the 2006 pick was No. 2 overall, and the 2007 pick was No. 9 overall.
In the situation they were in at the time, the Knicks could have picked, say, Brandon Roy and Rodney Stuckey? Sticking that route and taking Wilson Chandler in the same spot in 2007 would give you a starting five of:
Rajon Rondo, Brandon Roy, Chandler, Nene, and Camby.
Throw Stuckey, David Lee, and Nate Robinson on the bench—oh and don't forget Ariza—and this is an nine-deep team playing with a "win now" mentality. I mean, look at that team.
Listen, I understand this is strictly woulda-coulda-shoulda material, but its feasible, and sad at the same time. For now, Knicks fans just have one time on their minds.