The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks were unable to land a “big-time “free agent this off-season, both teams coveted a “Big Man, to play in the front court. DeAndre Jordan signed with the Dallas Mavericks and LaMarcus Aldridge signed with the San Antonio Spurs. Fans and media have been beyond critical of Jim Buss and Phil Jackson. I am going to take a different approach. Sometimes in life you have to take a step backwards to reach your long-term goals. For example, have you ever lost a job, only to find a better one? Have you ever had your heart broken by your significant other, only to meet your soul mate and eventually get married? Many fans think the Lakers and Knicks failed via free agency. I am here to tell you, it is the best thing that has happened to them in years. Before we look at why, these two franchise will be winners in the long run, let us look at their recent past.
When the Lakers signed Kobe Bryant to a 2 year $48 million contract, I wrote an article titled, “Olympus has Fallen.” I couldn’t believe that this once storied and legendary franchise was giving an ageing player on the decline of his career, all that money. The Lakers basically gave him a lifetime achievement award. In a salary cap league this was a huge mistake. Bryant has played 41 games over the past two years. Next year, his salary will take up 37% of the teams cap. The Knicks did the same thing with Carmelo Anthony. Over the next four years, Anthony will make $22, $24, $26 and $27 million. He played in 40 games last year. There is no comparing the Lakers to the Knicks, Los Angeles has won 16 world championships and New York has had 1 playoff series win since 2000. New York used to be called the “Mecca of Basketball” but that title no longer holds any weight. Where the Lakers and Knicks are eerily similar is that they both overpaid players (Who are way past their prime)…to stay with their teams.
The Knicks have done this repeatedly under owner James Dolan. They brought in players like Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis and traded away Nene for Antonio McDyess. ( McDyess after numerous injuries played a total of 18 games with Knicks and averaged 8.4 points per game.)
Winning organizations don’t overpay for players on the “back 9” of their careers. Even the Miami Heat and Pat Riley got LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to all take pay cuts. Here are two future Hall of Fame players’ stats and salaries from last year.
Tim Duncan: Salary, $10.3 million, 28.8 minutes, 13.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3 assists per game.
Dirk Nowitzki: Salary, $8.3 million 29.6 minutes, 17.3 points 5.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.
Winning organizations have their veterans accept less money and take lesser roles for the continued growth of the team. This is something the Lakers and the Kicks haven’t convinced Bryant and Anthony to do. They are both getting max money. But, here is the good news, if you are fan of LA or NY… to quote Bob Dylan, “Oh the times, they are a changing.”
When Jackson picked Kristaps Porzingis with the 4th overall pick, I applauded the move. For the first time in 15 years the Knicks were building towards the future. Jackson didn’t trade down, or trade the pick for an experienced veteran, he showed patience and vision. The Lakers picked D’Angelo Russell with the second overall pick. The Western Conference is filled with top notch guard play and the Lakers now have a young player who can compete at that position for the next 10 years.
If the Lakers and Knicks signed one of the top notch free agents they still wouldn’t be an elite team. Best case scenario is they would be a 7th or 8th seed in the conference and they would possible trade a draft pick of young player for a veteran at the trading deadline. They would give up the future for a first round playoff exit.
The New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors have all had tremendous success building through the draft. That is the formula for winning programs. There is no quick fixes in major league sports.The Lakers and Knicks are now forced to rebuild and think long term. I think both teams will get back on top when Bryant and Anthony are no longer on their rosters.
Olympus may have fallen, but it will rise again… be patient fans
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