HE IS THE MINDFREAK. (Photo courtesy of The Plain Dealer's Early Edition blog)
When I saw the headline to the Wednesday post on New York Daily News reporter Frank Isola’s “Knicks Knation” (ugh) blog, I felt a chill run down my spine:
“Knicks targeting Bulls’ Larry Hughes.”
For real? I mean, I’d heard possible trades discussed that would maybe allow the Knicks to shed a contract or two, maybe bring back an expiring deal, maybe add a frontcourt asset, etc. But “targeting”? Larry Hughes?
Are they aware that this is the dude whose reputation for taking abysmal, low-percentage shots at inopportune times inspired someone actually started a Web site called “Hey Larry Hughes, Please Stop Taking So Many Bad Shots“? That he has in the past worn an ungodly body armor undershirt contraption that would elicit derision from the hairiest, Rec-Spec-iest dudes in your Wednesday morning YMCA league?
That he has engendered such distaste among Bulls fans that Matt at Blog-a-Bull admitted he “may have snuck in a pump of the fist when [he] saw Larry Hughes crumple to the ground” during a pre-season game against the Timberwolves? That goathair’s lone birthday wish for this trade deadline (BTW, happy birfday, broheim) was that his beloved Bulls ship out Hughes?
That math genius Tom Ziller wrote at The Sporting Blog that “Hughes + Basketball = Wincing pain“? That spiritual sage Bethlehem Shoals at the same site once advised Bulls GM John Paxson that Hughes “will destroy this team if you let him shine, like a cult leader and corrupt guidance counselor rolled up in one“?
That, through a uniquely distasteful combination of poor play and selfishness, he earned this etherization by Eamonn Brennan, noted scribe of seemingly everywhere?
Larry. Real talk. You are not as good as you think you are. You’re that awkward, crappy guy at open gym who, for whatever reason, thinks he’s really good, and alienates an entire court of eager basketball players in the meantime. You are self-deluded. You don’t command minutes. You waste possessions. You don’t defend. Your arm sleeve-sweater-thing is utterly ridiculous. You take horrible shots. SOMEONE NAMED A WEB SITE AFTER YOUR BAD SHOTS. IT WAS QUITE POPULAR DESPITE ITS INCREDIBLY LONG URL.
Christ, Larry. Figure it out. You’re the only one that hasn’t.
(I knew there was a lot of Larry Hughes-centric venom on the Internet, but I never knew it was this widespread … and we haven’t even gotten to the Basketbawful retrospective. More on that to come.)
And yet, here we are, with Isola reporting that team president Donnie Walsh is considering flipping the expiring contract of Malik Rose and at least one player asset — including, possibly, restricted-free-agent-to-be Nate Robinson, whose stock has jumped after a string of quality performances leading into the All-Star break and whose monster 38-minute-32/10-with-3-assists-and-zero-TO line in Tuesday’s surprise victory over the Spurs led Kelly Dwyer to write the following: “That’s a line, and I’m being serious, that we were used to seeing from Dirk Nowitzki during his MVP run” — to bring in Hughes, whose $13.65 million contract comes off the books heading into the much-ballyhooed Summer of 2010.
(LONGEST SENTENCE EVER.)
But hold the phone on the giant cap-space clearance. Let’s see if we can’t handicap the odds of this sucker actually going down.
Over at ESPN.com, Chris Sheridan last night gave us the good ol’ “go fuck yourself, trade watchers!” coin flip:
I have one very plugged-in source telling me that the Knicks still have a “slim but possible” chance of landing Larry Hughes, while another source was equally emphatic in saying he expects the Bulls to keep Hughes in mothballs now that they’ve dropped some $200,000 under the luxury tax threshold via the Brad Miller/John Salmons deal.
Today’s Chicago Tribune reports that “a nearly completed deal sending Hughes to the Knicks for Malik Rose and Jerome James fell apart Wednesday.” At the same time, however, today’s Chicago Sun-Times says that Hughes didn’t travel with the Bulls to Milwaukee for their game against the Bucks (intrigue!) and that the framework for a Hughes deal might involve David Lee going Midwest and Kirk Hinrich heading to the Big City of Dreams. (NOTE: Newsday’s Alan Hahn says that deal’s not happening, and that Lee’s not going anywhere.)
That first trade would make some economic sense — the Bulls get Rose’s expiring $7.65 million deal to create some space this off-season, the Knicks shed the now-largely-symbolic albatross of Big Snacks and turn about $14.25 million in total expiring contracts (spread over two years) into one lump-sum $13.65 million goner next year, the overwhelmingly obvious and explicitly stated goal of everything they do.
On the other hand, the second proposal would make most Knicks fans cry, cry, cry for several reasons:
- Lee’s become the great white hope for many in the Apple;
- While Hinrich is a more gifted overall player than Chris Duhon and his 2009 per-36 numbers are about in line with his career marks (with at least a couple of his advanced stats/peripherals nosing up toward his ’06-’07 career bests) despite missing about two months to a thumb injury, he doesn’t appear to represent a monster upgrade over what the Knicks are getting from Duhon this year;
- Hinrich’s contract pays him through 2011-2012, meaning that even though the Knicks would shed Hughes’ $13.65 million, they’d still have Cap’n Kirk, who doesn’t seem to be too many people’s idea of an NBA championship-caliber starting point guard, on the books for two more seasons.
Added wrinkle: In his post yesterday, Isola claimed that Lee would only go to Chicago in a Hughes deal if the Bulls sent back Joakim Noah or Tyrus Thomas, a framework for which had also been discussed as a “trade that SHOULD happen” by ESPN.com’s Chad Ford (in a post that was summarily pooh-poohed by Tommy Dee at The Knicks Blog on Tuesday).
But what makes this all the more interesting is Isola’s suggestion that some in NY’s front offices are having doubts about whether Lee is talented or savvy enough to merit locking up long-term:
Lee has enjoyed a breakout season but some in the organization wonder if he has reached his ceiling. On Tuesday, Lee was no match for Tim Duncan, who scored 13 fourth quarter points. Lee also missed a crucial free throw in the final minute and then knowingly gave his sixth foul in the final three seconds while guarding Tony Parker, who finished the night shooting 5-for-20.
Although the Knicks won the game, Lee’s decision to give a foul – the Knicks had one to give – was a questionable move at best. If the Knicks were up one, Lee would have been smart to foul. But in a tied game, there is a strong chance that the game will go into overtime. Think of it this way, how many All-Stars (and Lee thinks he belongs in that group) would knowingly foul out of a tie game? The answer is none.
Now, there’s one patently ridiculous point in Isola’s post, as has been noted in various places: Name me all the teams that Duncan doesn’t go to town on, especially down the stretch, especially when opponents are trying to guard him with 6’9″ guys.
But as for the other stuff — the questions about how much more’s left untapped in Lee’s talent reservoir — well, hmm.
/takes himself out of fan mode and tries to think like a company man
If you believe Lee’s reached his ceiling and as a result you’re not really considering him in your long-term plans … and if you’re looking for a higher-potential athlete that might be totally unleashed in Mike D’Antoni’s system (I think we can all agree that Thomas has the chance to be that) … AND if you think teams are unlikely to ever have higher opinions of Lee and Robinson than they do right now …
Then doesn’t it make perfect sense to continue the job started by the Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph deals and use these remaining valuable assets (in conjunction with Rose’s expiring contract) to try to shed the last remaining bad multiyear deals (Jared Jeffries and Eddy Curry) and keep cleaning up the company’s balance sheet? Especially if said deals could return a chip (Thomas) that has the potential to be a higher-performing asset?
Even if it goes against all intuitive fan instincts to actively try to lose the two players who most make your team worth watching and fun to follow? Even if it means taking on a millstone (Hughes) that is sure to inspire Silky Johnston-level hating from yours truly (which, come to think of it, might also be considered an upside)?
The man in me thinks the “sell high” principle should take hold and I should have the balls to stick with the same thought process that I maintained when Walsh dumped Crawford and Randolph — this year doesn’t matter, D’Antoni will find ways to be competitive and interesting this season regardless, building the foundation for the future and scouring the books is what counts, etc.
But the fan in me wants to boo the notion of moving Lee and NateRob until my throat is sore because of the life they’ve helped bring to the squad. It’s causing the clash of head versus heart, intellect versus instinct, adult analysis versus childlike glee. I honestly didn’t know I cared this much.
Wow. That’s 1,500+ words I didn’t see coming. Thanks, Larry Hughes, for making me feel like Dane McGowan after he smokes the blue mold in The Invisibles. Trade deadline is doing my fucking head in, man.