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Sunday Discussion – Be Careful What You Wish For

There has been a lot of talk on here and across the NBA landscape about the Thunder’s seeming reluctance to make the kind of mid-season trade that could reshape the future of the franchise OR at the very least assure that the team would have the best opportunity to make a playoff run without sacrificing the future of the franchise. Clark’s PL&T article this week showed some of the possible trades that could help both of these and plenty of readers and commenters have also added their ideas as well (commenter justin will probably still be shouting for a trade for Brendan Haywood until the deadline since his contract is expiring and he could help out with that whole giving up one of the league’s worst averages in offensive rebounds a game).

Now obviously if a homerun trade opportunity comes up in where the Thunder have to give up for little to get something ridiculous (think Pau Gasol to the Lakers) then obviously I would be extremely disappointed if Presti didn’t make a move. Actually, even a solid asset that either doesn’t tie up cap space after this season (aka, expiring contract with an opportunity to resign if all goes well) or is a no-brainer as a future cornerstone of the franchise (be it a Bosh caliber post player, though notice that I didn’t say Bosh himself so let’s not start that up again) would obviously help this team make a playoff run this year and still be positioned to compete for a championship later.

Do I sound cautious about this type of discussion? Absolutely. It’s usually at about this time in a franchise’s development that the team hits something of a critical mass moment that ultimately determines the fate of the team for the next, oh, decade or longer. And when you seem to be “this close,” this near to what seems like the apex of the mountain is when desperation can creep into a fan base and even a front office because “if we only had _____, then we’d be a championship contender,” which means everyone is a little less likely to really think through all sides of a move before pulling the trigger. But what does this mean for us as Thunder Fans…

And since their organization basically called the Skirvin a haunted unfair advantage since their players couldn’t get any sleep and obviously that’s why they got crushed, I’m going to have to revisit what Isaiah Thomas did to the Knicks as a GM in his trigger-happy dealings to show just how significant even one big time trade can be to the future of an organization.

*Disclaimer: I love Isaiah Thomas the Hall of Fame point guard. This article in no way should diminish how great he was as a player. But, seriously, do I really have to even say that he was less than stellar as a GM at this point? I’ll let the column do the rest.

Okay, before we get going let me say that if I put anything out of chronological order, I’m sorry and yes, a lot of the “what could have been” scenarios are obviously debatable since any number of events could have changed them. But that being said, let’s remember that the Knicks were pretty much a mediocre-to-bad team before Isaiah Thomas was named the Knicks’ president on December 22, 2003. Almost immediately, Isaiah Thomas dealt four players, the rights to another player and TWO first-round draft picks for controversial powderkeg PG Stephon Marbury and an aging Penny Hardaway. The Knicks were already over the salary cap and adding Marbury’s and Hardaway’s hefty salaries just escalated the problem.

Speaking of the first round draft picks that Isaiah regularly traded away, hardly any of them were lottery protected, which is why one of those TBD picks that he traded will end up being the Jazz’s First Round Pick of this year’s 2010 DRAFT instead of the Knicks who’s record may or may not earn them a playoff spot!

To be fair though the Knicks did play pretty good initially after the Marbury trade, that is until Isaiah Thomas traded away Keith Van Horn and Michael Doleac in a three team trade with the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks to bring in Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed (I’m not really sure why, to be honest, so I can’t defend it). That being said, the Knicks did make the playoffs despite an obvious difference in team chemistry after the Van Horn/Doleac trades with a record of 39-43 that season but were swept by the Nets in the first round of the playoffs.

Things went south in the 2004-2005 season as the Knicks finished 33-49. Lenny Wilkens resigned during the year and in the off-season the team signed Larry Brown to an almost absurd five-year, $50 million dollar contract. Yes, Larry Brown and five-year contract were used in the same sentence.

Now enter the Jerome James and Eddy Curry extravaganza. Per an AP report, the Chicago Bulls were worried that Eddy Curry’s “genetic makeup leaves him susceptible to cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that combined with arrhythmia, could prove fatal” and had decided to trade him. So Isaiah Thomas traded three players, three UNPROTECTED draft picks AND the right to swap first-round picks in 2007 to get Curry (nothing like over paying for something someone clearly wants to give away, huh?). But let me emphasize again that the picks were not lottery protected.

The Knicks ended up trading the #2 pick of the 2006 draft (who ended up being LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE after all the dust settled) and swapped the #9 pick (who ended up being JOAKIM NOAH) for the #23 pick in 2007.  To update this, Curry has not played any meaningful basketball since 2006 and makes around $11 million dollars a year.

On top of this, he signed veteran free agent center Jerome James for the Mid-Level Exception for five years plus a one-year player option despite James being a career underachieving backup, plunging the Knicks further and further into luxury tax purgatory at over $130 MILLION and the team finished the season with the second worst record in the NBA.

To top it all of, the Knicks fired Larry Brown and had to buy him out for $18.5 million dollars.

To put the final nail in the coffin, the Knicks already had an undersized, shoot-first, defenseless point guard in Stephon Marbury and the league’s HIGHEST PAYROLL with one of the league’s worst records. So the obvious answer to this problem was to sign Steve Franchis and his bloated contract. Wait, what?

Isaiah Thomas opted to trade for Marbury’s exact double and sent the massive expiring contract of Hardaway and promising youngster TREVOR ARIZA for Steve Francis and his own enormous contract. Francis was unhappy (go figure) on the Knicks, hardly saw the court and was cut loose, costing the Knicks $15 million in just 2006-07 alone and forfeiting the rights to Ariza in the process (though a few teams did that before he become who he is today).

Thomas also decided to overpay Jared Jeffries during his tenure (makes $6.5 million and his contract will still run through 2011) and then turned around and drafted a Jared Jeffries clone in Renaldo Balkman.

Now considering all of those draft picks that he gave up… if Isaiah Thomas had not given up all their draft picks in his tenure with the team, the Knick’s roster could theoretically look something like Joakim Noah, LaMarcus Aldridge, Trevor Ariza, Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson, David Lee + whoever they could have drafted in this class with their lottery pick. Did I mention that they took Renaldo Balkman one pick before the Celtics drafted Rajon Rondo?

Now obviously if they had kept all of those picks they may or may not have had as bad of seasons to earn high enough draft picks for Gallinari and some of the others on the list, but surely there’s a lesson to be learned from this, right?

And here’s the point of rehashing this watershed moment in the NBA’s GM history…be careful what you wish for, Mr. and Mrs. Fan.

There’s a big difference between a smart and patient acquisition that can benefit your team in the present season and/or the future…and doing a deal just because you can get it done.

The former is what builds championships. The latter robs you of your chance to compete for one and usually results in years of mediocrity, of first round playoff exits and limited cap space.

All that to say…man I really wish Presti would make a smart deal for a rebounding center before the deadline.