Question: Last year, Jazz fans were sure that the Knicks would keep struggling under coach Isiah Thomas, thereby giving Utah a chance at a lottery pick in the 2010 draft. Now, with Mike D'Antoni replacing Thomas, does this change? ... What are the chances of the Jazz getting a top-five pick from the Knicks in two years?
- Karthik, Salt Lake City
Answer: I agree with your first assessment.
The Knicks weren't going anywhere under Isiah Thomas and the Jazz's chances of being in the top five or top 10 of the 2010 draft with the pick previously acquired from New York would have improved had he stayed in charge.
The hiring of Donnie Walsh as team president and Mike D'Antoni as coach is first step toward respectability for the Knicks, which is not good news for the Jazz.
Walsh's track record and reputation are impeccable. He's one of the best in the business and was the perfect choice to direct the reconstruction in New York.
I've known him since he was hired as Denver's director of player personnel in 1997. During the lockout-shortened 1999 season, D'Antoni inherited the impossible job of head coach and guided the Nuggets to a 14-36 record. He was not retained, but got a second chance to be an NBA head coach in Phoenix, starting early in the 2003-04 season.
Everybody who follows the NBA knows what kind of job D'Antoni did with the Suns.
Phoenix couldn't win a championship, however, and D'Antoni was gently pushed out the door after last season. He flirted with the job in Chicago before being hired by New York.
With D'Antoni on the bench, the Knicks will almost certainly improve.
The big question for the Jazz, of course, is how quickly New York can move out of the lottery?
In my opinion, the Knicks will continue to struggle next season, as Walsh and D'Antoni get organized.
Although I believe New York has a decent core that includes Quentin Richardson, Jamal Crawford, David Lee, Eddy Curry and rookie Danilo Gallinari, Walsh will still be stuck with a couple of big contracts belonging the players not likely to contribute -- Stephon Marbury ($21.9 million) and Malik Rose ($7.6 million). The Knicks will also pay Wilson Chandler, Mardy Collins and Anthony Robinson a combined $3.8 million.
Unless Walsh can somehow find a taker for Marbury or underachieving Zach Randolph, who is scheduled to earn $47.6 million over the next three years, New York's payroll issues will probably preclude significant improvement next season.
That said, New York could make a significant jump forward in 2009-10 -- just in time to cost Utah an extremely valuable lottery pick.
After the coming season, the contracts of Marbury and Rose expire. The team also owns an option on the contracts of Wilson, Collins and Robinson. If they are not renewed, that means more than $34 million can be chopped off the Knicks' payroll, giving Walsh and D'Antoni their first real chance to put their stamp on the franchise.
If I was running the Jazz, I would not consider trading the pick Utah will likely get from the Knicks in 2010.
Even with Walsh and D'Antoni in the job, the rebuilding job in New York could take awhile, and the Knicks' pick in two years could be a beauty, and everyone knows what Jazz vice president of basketball operations Kevin O'Connor did the last time he got into the lottery.
In 2005, O'Connor deftly moved up three spots from No. 6 and and selected Deron Williams with the third pick.
Certainly, O'Connor wouldn't mind another chance to work that kind of magic, if the Knicks cooperate.