New team president Phil Jackson has generally done well with his initial bigger moves while learning to run the New York Knicks thus far. But when it comes to the smaller transactions he’s made, the two-time NBA champion (as a player) and league record 11-time title holder as a head coach has acted the way one would anticipate of a rookie executive.
Jackson failed to sign his first choice (Steve Kerr) when going after a head coach, but his hiring of Derek Fisher for that role was a seemingly good backup plan (although time will tell on that one, as Fisher will be entering his first year as an NBA head coach).
Shedding underachieving starters Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton in favor of a significant upgrade at point guard (in Jose Calderon) and a nice choice to help back him up (Shane Larkin), along with landing an early (or more literally, an Early) second-round pick were also a coup for Jackson, who turned that second-round selection into Cleanthony Early, a talented forward who is expected to step in and be a key part of Knicks’ rotation next season.
And although New York had to pay a hefty price (all but $5 million short of the maximum $129 million that star forward Carmelo Anthony could have garnered from the Knicks over five years), Jackson did well to hang on to the team’s franchise player and keep him from moving on to a serious contender (Chicago) within the same conference.
However, Jackson’s gamble on Lamar Odom, while not really costing New York much at all, didn’t work out, as Odom is already off the team. And 2014 NBA draft picks Thanasis Antetokounmpo (at No. 51) and French center Louis Labeyrie (at No. 57) were choices that may very likely never contribute to the Knicks, when better players were there for the taking.
Last Wednesday, another non-major move may have revealed Jackson’s inexperience with making smaller moves to fill out a roster.
Purely from a statistics standpoint, sending center Jeremy Tyler and guard Wayne Ellington to the Sacramento Kings for forwards Travis Outlaw and Quincy Acy seems like a wash that won’t have much impact for either the Knicks or the Kings.
Acy, 23, has been a 50 percent shooter from the floor, while averaging 3.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in 12.9 minutes per game over his first two NBA seasons. Last year, he scored 2.7 points and grabbed 3.6 rebounds per game in 56 games for Sacramento after playing his first seven games of 2013-14 with Toronto.
Outlaw, a slender 6’9″ and 207 pounds, will turn 30 next month. Although the former first round pick by the Portland Trail Blazers posted career-highs of 13.3 points and 4.6 rebounds in his fifth season, the 11-year veteran was reduced to a minor role player over the past three seasons with the Kings. Over that time, he averaged about the same minutes as Acy, scoring only a bit more than four or five points per game and averaging no more than the 2.7 boards he grabbed last year.
As for what the Knicks gave up, California native Jeremy Tyler returns to his home state after similar production last season, when he scored 3.6 points on 51.7 percent shooting from the field and pulled down 2.7 rebounds in 9.7 minutes per game. Over his three years with Golden State, Atlanta and New York, Tyler has put up almost identical results (3.6 points and 2.6 rebounds) on 45 percent shooting.
Ellington, 26, has averaged 6.4 points and just 1.8 rebounds over a five-year career thus far, but after scoring a career-best 7.9 points after splitting 50 games evenly with Memphis and Cleveland two years ago, Ellington scored a career-low 3.2 points and had only one rebound last year while appeared in 26 games for the Dallas Mavericks.
From the Knicks’ perspective, a very comparable one year and $3 million remains on Outlaw’s deal and Acy is getting just under $1 million next season, while New York will have a team option on him at just over that amount for the following year.
On the surface, neither team seems to have come away with much of an edge over the other in what amounts to an end-of-the-rotation swap between the Knicks and Kings.
But a closer look might say a little different.
According to Jackson, the Knicks needed “to do roster management” by purging at least one player from their overabundance of guards. And with newly acquired Samuel Dalembert and Jason Smith, to go along with Cole Aldrich at center, Tyler was seen as expendable.
New York also likes Acy’s high energy and ability to defend, as well as the depth the Knicks believe Outlaw can help Early provide behind Anthony.
However, while Acy was a good college player at Baylor, he has yet to show much more than an ability to be a rebound and putback guy offensively at the next level. And Outlaw has already started on a path toward a sharp decline (over the past three years) from the once useful and productive player he was in Portland — now, four teams ago.
Conversely, Ellington, who came over from Dallas (when New York gave up on Chandler and Felton) has always been a very reliable three-point shooter, at 38.6 percent for his career, including a career-high 42.4 percent last season. That’s something the Knicks, even with dangerous three-point threats Anthony, Calderon and guard J.R. Smith all part of New York’s regular rotation, could have used more of off the bench.
Meanwhile, filling Chandler’s void the way the Knicks plan to may not work as well without Tyler.
At age 33, Dalembert has seen his minutes decline in recent years — from a high of 33.2 minutes with Philadelphia, in his sixth season, to a career-low 16.3 minutes, with Milwaukee two years ago. Last season, he played just 20.2 minutes, his second-lowest since his rookie year.
Smith can help there, provided he’s on the floor. That’s a rather large uncertainty though, given that the oft-injured center played in only 122 games — half of New Orleans’ 243 — over the past three seasons, despite being only six years into his NBA career.
Aldrich showed promise at times with the Knicks, but the former 11th overall pick four years ago is still raw and developing.
So is Tyler, but like Acy, he’s only 23 and has good size at 6’10”, 260 pounds. He also showed several flashes of good potential during his first year with New York last season — like his 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting and five rebounds in 23 minutes during a blowout win over Boston in late January, and his double-double (12 points on 5-of-9 shooting and 11 rebounds) in 22 minutes, during another easy win, over the Denver Nuggets, 10 days later.
Even if the above doesn’t sway Knicks fans that Jackson might have received the short end of his latest deal, perhaps the unprotected 2016 second-round pick that also went to Sacramento will.
As evidenced by what happened for New York in June, when Early unexpectedly fell out of the first round and to the Knicks, such a pick could be highly valuable.
In the end, losing the long distance shooting of Ellington and the possible upside and youth of Tyler may very well prove to not be much of a loss at all.
Yet maybe that second round pick two years from now will be. And for the seemingly very limited help that Acy and Outlaw figure to give them, the Knicks might have been a lot wiser to be patient with standing pat and seeing how that 2016 pick, Ellington, and especially Tyler, might have turned out for them.