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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Making Sense of the Marbury Scenarios

You basically need to be an actuary/ninja/wizard to really understand the ins and outs of the NBA salary cap... which is one of several reasons that there's so much mis-information out there disguised as trade scenarios for Stephon Marbury.

I'm not an actuary, a ninja or a wizard... so please bear with me as I try to break this down.

The Perception:
Steph and Isiah kissed and made up last night before the Knicks/Clippers game. Marbury didn't start, but he played 34 minutes (more than two Knick starters), scored 13 points and racked up four assists in the game.

The Reality:

The fact that Steph got some run last night doesn't mean a damn thing. Steve Francis actually managed to work his way out of the doghouse -- briefly -- last spring, with a sudden and remarkable recovery from his "injury" right when Jamal Crawford was shut down for the year. Steve Francis, you'll note, is no longer a New York Knick.

The Perception:
The Knicks should hang on to Marbury. There's an excellent class of free-agents waiting after the 2008/09 season, when Steph's $22 million comes off the cap.

The Reality:
There's horror... and then there's the Knicks' salary cap situation. Here's a quick list of the Knicks under contract for 09/10:

  • Zach Randolph - $16 million
  • Jared Jeffries - $6.4 million
Then, there's the player options:
  • Eddy Curry - $10.5 million
  • Quentin Richardson - $9.4 million
  • Jamal Crawford - $9.4 million
  • Jerome James - $6.6 million
Of that group, Crawford is the only one for whom opting out seems like a possibility.

Now, let's assume they pick up options on all Isiah's highly-touted draft picks:
  • Nate Robinson - $2.9 million
  • Renaldo Balkman - $2 million
  • Wilson Chandler - $1.2 million
  • David Lee - $2.6 million
  • Mardy Collins - $1.8 million
Add that all up... the Knicks already have over $58 million in salaries after Steph comes off the books. The salary cap for 2007-08 is 55-and-change, and for the last few seasons has increased at a rate of $2-5 million per year. Which means, once you factor in the next two years' worth of draft picks or a re-signing of someone like Randolph Morris, the Knicks most likely already over the 2009 cap. Even if they squeak in under the cap, they won't have enough room to make a competitive offer to one of the hot free agents.

(Salary cap figures are from the invaluable HoopsHype.)

The Perception:
If the Knicks can't get under the cap and make a run at a 2009 free agent, they might as well trade Steph for whatever they can get, even if it means taking back an even longer deal.

The Reality:
Actually, the summer of 2010 is where the Knicks' cap situation starts to look reasonable. Richardson and James come off the books, leaving Randolph, Curry, Crawford (if he stays) and Jeffries (player option) as the only big-ticket items. Robinson and Lee will need to be re-signed, but if they can be retained at a reasonable level, the Knicks actually do have a shot to be able to bid on one of the big free agents that year.

The big 2009 free agents? LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

In other words, taking on any salaries beyond 2009-10 would be unfathomably dumb.

The Summary:
Isiah Thomas' best -- and only -- play might be to buy out Marbury's deal. That removes the distraction, allows New York to build around the two big fellas in the post and the younger guards, and maintains the cap relief after the 08-09 season.

The Reality:
Does anyone REALLY think Isiah is still running this team come summer of 2010?

Even if he is, does anyone really think he won't do something to screw up the cap between then and now?

So... in reality, any discussion of what the Knicks can or should do is completely moot...

Unless they actually hire a professional to run the damn team.


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