Why New York Knicks Best Play Is Trading Andrea Bargnani

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 25, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Andrea Bargnani #77 of the New York Knicks and Taj Gibson #22 of the Chicago Bulls battle for the ball at Madison Square Garden on December 11, 2013 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Short-term relationships can be a good thing. When you're the New York Knicks, and the potentially scorned would be Andrea Bargnani, it can be a great thing.

Maybe even a necessary thing.

"I’ll put him in the best position I can to see that happens in terms of him being successful in helping us win," Woodson told reporters shortly after the Knicks acquired Bargs, via the New York Daily News' Frank Isola.

Whatever the Knicks and Woodson hoped Bargnani would do for them, he hasn't. His stock has elevated slightly, while New York's has entered a free fall.

Since he hasn't had the impact he was supposed to, perhaps his departure can.

 

Actual Value...

Dec 10, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Knicks power forward Andrea Bargnani (77) drives to the basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the fourth quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Bargs hasn't been terrible. 

General manager Steve Mills can lead with that. He hasn't been dropping 20 points on 50 percent shooting every night, but this isn't the no-show version of Bargs we saw in two previous seasons.

The 7-footer is averaging 14.3 points on 43.7 percent shooting, respectable when you consider he registered just 12.7 points on 39.9 percent shooting in 35 games last season. His rebounding percentage heading into Christmas Day (10) is still underwhelming, but it's also the third-highest of his career. 

More importantly, after appearing in just 31 and 35 games in 2011-12 and 2012-13, respectively, Bargs has appeared in every one of New York's 28 games thus far. Another improvement. 

Then there's his contract, the same one that Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri wanted so badly to move. 

Suddenly, it's not so steep.

Bargnani is owed $11.5 million next season, according to ShampSports.com, a figure that isn't guaranteed to garner any interest elsewhere. But here's the thing: Bargs has an early termination option. Is it unrealistic to think he may exercise it, essentially rendering himself an expiring contract?

Before you answer, think bout Monta Ellis, who left an eight-figure salary on the table with the Milwaukee Bucks, opting for a longer contract with the Dallas Mavericks. Bargs could travel a similar route.

If he's looking to earn more than just the $11.5 million next season, he could look to explore the open market, where a team could be waiting to pay him $7-8 million annually over three years. That could happen, which means a trade could happen as well.

Some team willing to roll the dice on potential cap relief could take a chance on him. Worst-case scenario, they add a scorer who can deepen a starting lineup or bench attack without breaking the bank beyond next season. 

 

...Just Not to New York

Dec 6, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks power forward Andrea Bargnani (77) dribbles by Orlando Magic power forward Andrew Nicholson (44) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks won the game 121-83. Mandatory Credit: Joe Campore
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Financial relief Bargs may provide means little to the Knicks, who would still be well over the cap without him if they intend re-sign Carmelo Anthony, which they do.

The Knicks have also struggled with Bargs on the floor, despite the fact he's played OK. 

The Bargnani Conundrum
With/WithoutOff. Rtg.Def. Rtg.+/-
With Bargs101.4107.3-5.9
Without Bargs102.199.92.2
Knicks Overall101.6104.5-2.9
Via NBA.com.

That's not what New York had in mind when it brought the Italian in to be Anthony's No. 2. The Knicks are generally better without him on the floor, and it shows. He's playing better as an individual, but not fitting into the team's dynamic. 

Coach Woodson has presumably started to realize this, as Bargnani's playing time has dwindled steadily since this moment of not-so-awesome:

Including New York's Christmas Day, Anthony-less meltdown, Bargs hasn't logged 30 minutes in three games. And really, it should be four.

It took some double-overtime ridiculousness against the Milwaukee Bucks for him to see 34 minutes of burn. He's averaging 30-plus minutes a night on the year, so yes, that's relevant.

Limiting his playing time won't do much. Players—like Amar'e Stoudemire, for instance—aren't going to excel in short bursts after riding the pine for extended periods. 

Case in point in definitive conclusion:

Bargnani's Offensive Playing Splits
MinutesPTSFG%3P%REBSASTSOff. Rtg.
40+16.0438.5006.03.096
30-3917.4443.2646.71.6108
20-2910.6.417.3163.60.8100
10-1910.0.474.2862.50.576
Via Basketball-Reference.

Bargs has been more productive in that 30-39 minutes range, time Woodson isn't giving him. And if the Knicks won't give him enough playing time to find his groove, maybe someone else will.

 

But About Those Finances...

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 31: Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls battles for position on a free-throw with Carmelo Anthony #7 (L) and Andrea Bargnani #77 of the New York Knicks at the United Center on October 31, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeate
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

This is a riskier stance to assume.

Say the Knicks can move Bargnani for an expiring contract. Should they? It's something worth considering if they have some grand cap-room plan.

Remove his contract from the books in 2014-15, without replacing it for another, means the Knicks are one salary dump away from having some cap flexibility. Ideally, that would entail moving STAT's deal, but with him owed more than $23.4 million next season, that's unrealistic.

Still, it makes the prospect of such a scenario more plausible. When the goal is to construct a roster that convinces Anthony to re-sign, that's huge. When Anthony is performing well next to Bargs, it's even bigger.

'Melo and Bargs
'Melo...Off. Rtg.Def. Rtg.Net Rtg.
With Bargs102.2108.6-6.4
Without Bargs104.893.311.5
Overall102.9104.1-1.1
Via NBA.com.

Kapow. And disgusting. These two simply aren't playing well together. If I'm the Knicks, I'd rather have the prospect of flexibility than see this pairing try to turn things around.

But let's go back to the previous argument for a second. That whole Bargs-potentially-hitting-free-agency thing.

What if some team treats his deal as an expiring pact, willing to flip a real asset on a longer contract that could help New York now? Seems unlikely, but it's worth a shot.

When your supposed No. 2 is being pinned to the bench for long stretches at a time, and your best player is visibly worse with him on the floor, it's time to take a shot.

 

Playing It Smart

Nov 29, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; New York Knicks center Andrea Bargnani (77) prepares to shoot during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Moving Bargs isn't a sure thing. It won't automatically cure all that's ailing the Knicks, nor does it guarantee them all the benefits we just discussed.

Then again, what does?

The Knicks are in a position to gamble. Ten games under .500, outside of the Eastern Conference's playoff picture and in danger of losing Anthony to free agency, they must take some chances.

Mills cannot flip Bargs for Rajon Rondo, but he could negotiate a deal that gives New York financial flexibility before 2015, or puts it in position to nab some sooner. Or the prospect of Bargs braving free agency for more guaranteed money could lead another team in need of cap relief of their own to fork over a real asset, someone who can help Anthony and the Knicks now.

Would moving him make the Knicks smaller? Probably, but that's fine. They're 4-12 when starting 'Melo at small forward, so this could force Woodson to abandon his ill-advised affinity for running big.

"Like I said, we don't know what lineup is going to be out there on any given night," Anthony admitted of the Knicks, per the New York Daily News' Peter Botte.

Shopping Bargs won't necessarily change that. It won't necessarily lead to an immediate asset, financial relief or even a trade at all. But it's worth a try.

After watching this browbeaten Knicks team continue their descent into latency, anything is. 

 

*All stats used courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com (subscription required), and all salary information obtained from ShamSports.com, unless otherwise noted.