Two teams, two different cities. 450 miles apart on a map, light years from each other in terms of realistic immediate goals, and yet, closer than one would think.
The Cleveland Cavaliers will go into the 2017-2018 with the knowledge that they’ve been in the NBA Finals the last 3 seasons, and have brought home to Cleveland an ever elusive pro sports championship. While on paper the Boston Celtics may have closed the gap with their acquisition of Gordon Hayward, and the drafting of Jayson Tatum, there is still a gap as long as Lebron James is on the floor. And while Boston may win the regular season, and even the off season, its the Cavaliers who won handily in the Eastern Conference Finals, and will be the favorite to do so again.
450 miles to the east will put you in the Mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden. While geographically just a hop, skip, and a jump from Quicken Loans Arena, the two teams couldn’t be further away. While the Cavs are gearing up to challenge the Warriors for NBA supremacy, the Knicks are moving in the other direction, pushing their in city rival Brooklyn Nets for the right to select at the top of the draft next year (Of course I know the Celtics own the Nets pick in 2018, I haven’t lived under a rock in like 4 years, man I miss that rock, it was rent controlled and had a great view of the lake).
So why are the Knicks and Cavaliers having a seemingly equally difficult time finding someone to properly take the reigns of their franchises? Just before what is arguably the 2nd most important period of time for building a ball club, the NBA draft, owner Dan Gilbert of the Cavaliers relieved David Griffin of his duties as steward of the Cavaliers.
Not to be outdone, just before the eve of NBA free agency, James Dolan of the Knicks stepped in and mercifully gave team President Phil Jackson the boot, told him he didn’t have to go home, but he had to get the duck out of there. I can only imagine Phil was surprised to learn he was President of the Knicks in the first place.
Since that time the Knicks have done virtually nothing but send out press releases regarding the numerous rumors that franchise cornerstone Kristaps Porzingis was shopped prior to the draft, as well as deal with questions about the immediate future of face of the franchise star, Carmelo Anthony.
(I spoke too soon. As I write this, the Knicks have signed Tim Hardaway Jr. to a 4 year, $71,000,000 offer sheet. As sad as that is, I fully expect the Atlanta Hawks to match that.. yes, the Knicks are now the desperate team throwing money at restricted free agents hoping the old teams won’t match because no one wants to come play with them. I heard that they’ve even resigned themselves to taking their cousin, the New York Liberty to the prom this year because they couldn’t get a date and their mom is making them go, they’ll just tell people she goes to a school the next county over. No one will know, it’ll be cool).
So this raises the question, if offered the job tomorrow as President of the New York Knicks, and simultaneously offered the job as President of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Which would you take? (for the record, Dan, Jimmy… I know I’m busting your balls on here, but I’ll take either job for $400,000 a year, and relocation expenses. Think of the money you’ll save and the publicity you’d get for hiring a guy out of no where. Slide into my DMs)
On the surface the response would be the Cleveland Cavaliers. You’ve got the best player in the league on your squad in a downtrodden eastern conference. You’re set up for immediate success. Which is where it may be an issue. If you step in, and the Cavs win the east, before losing to the Warriors in the finals (which per current Vegas lines is the odds on favorite as a result), its status quo. You would receive none of the credit for making it that far. You were set up by the previous regime. It wasn’t you doing a good job, it was you staying the hell out of the way, and letting Lebron be Lebron.
In New York, if you can make it through an entire 82 game season, manage not to burn down Madison Square Garden, and can master the ability of appearing to have a pulse, you will be a vast improvement over the Phil Jackson era.
The Cavaliers also have the sticky Lebron off the floor situation. King James has the option to opt out of his contract following the 2017-2018 season, and unless he suffers a career ending injury, he’ll be leaving that $35.6 million on the table. Its been noted in previous off seasons that Lebron has recruited free agents to the Cavs, and has not served in a similar role as Cleveland ambassador this off season. Is it a signal that he plans to opt out after this year? That he wants to re-explore greener (or yellower & purpler) pastures? Will he, Carmelo, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Paul find a team willing to let them play out the twilight of their careers together as the banana boat gang? A last ditch attempt to get the gang together and go after the Warrirors? Is Lebron upset about the firing of Griffin? Or does he simply realize that the Cavs have no realistic options with their salary cap situation? Nobody outside of Lebron knows what he’s thinking, and that’s potentially a problem.
With, or without Lebron after next season the Cavaliers will be over the salary cap without some serious re-tooling. With Lebron picking up his player option (which won’t happen) the Cavs payroll for 2018-2019 would be about $136 million, and without him, it’d be about $101 million, right up against the cap.
If Lebron left, the Cavs would be looking at starting the 2018 season (based upon who is on the roster right now) with a team centered around Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Not exactly the bare minimum, but would no longer be a sure bet to get past the Celtics, or even the Wizards or Bucks for that matter, and would have a better chance of winning the Nevada state lottery than they would of beating the Warriors. And Nevada doesn’t have a state lottery.
At this point they’d have to make a decision, do they attempt to regroup with those two stars minus Lebron, or do they start shipping those guys off for assets, of which the Cavaliers have few. If rumors are any indication, the current management is at least open to the idea of moving on from Kyrie Irving, their young, clutch superstar. Its been asserted that Griffin’s lack of desire to move the Cavs’ best hope of extending their championship window was why he was let go.
Its also been rumored that a trade involving Kevin Love being shipped out for Paul George was approved all the way up to the ownership level before Pacers’ GM Kevin Pritchard lost his damn mind and sent George to Oklahoma City instead.
Both players, Love and Irving have player options for the 2019-2020 season, and I would be shocked if either exercised the option to stay on their current deal. IF (and that’s a big uppercase IF) both players opted in, the Cavs (as of right now, 2 years away) would have about $81 million in salaries committed to that season. If they opted out, the only 2 players that would be under contract are Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith for a combined $34 million.
So to step into the Cavs job, leaves you with the conundrum, that if you stick with what you’ve got, you get no credit, but maybe a championship ring. And even if you do stick to the script as currently written the future is wrought with uncertainty.
Cleveland out punted its coverage with Lebron James. They lucked out, they were a 3 dating a 10, who only got the chance because they grew up next door to one another. They did some heavy petting in high school, but never went all the way. She went away to college, experimented a bit, had fun during spring break at South Beach, and came back after graduation. When she came back she wanted something familiar, something comfortable. She finally let them score, and it was great, but in the back of their mind they know she’s seen the world, experienced some things, and while she says its nice to be home, she’s never fully committed to settling down. Every once in a while they’ll see her texting with one of her flings, and they just can’t feel secure, she’s way out of their league, and its killing the relationship that they both know it.
This will he stay, will he leave uncertainty makes Cleveland smell desperate to outside free agents, and thus unappealing. The thought of kicking off a rebuild or retool may seem appealing. You would have the option to try and build around Kyrie, or to ship he and Love off for assets to kick start the process. To say the Cavaliers currently have no young developing players on their roster would be to over sell their roster. It has been veterans or bust since the return of King James.
Draft capital? They own their 2018 pick, but then owe the Hawks their first rounder (with top 10 protection) in 2019. They don’t own a second rounder in the immediate future. Word is they were positioned to purchase a 2nd round pick this year in an attempt to grab former high school top prospect Ivan Rabb, but that deal fell through.
A review of the Knicks financial situation isn’t much more appealing than that of the Cavaliers, but you’d be walking in with much less immediate pressure.
Assuming Carmelo opts out of his deal following next season (which assumes Carmelo makes it through the season remaining on the roster), and assuming Kyle O’Quinn doesn’t pick up his $4.5 million player option (which he’d have to be insane to not opt out), the Knicks will have only about $51 million in guaranteed salaries for 2018-2019 (this also assumes the Hawks match the Knicks offer sheet to Tim Hardaway Jr). They’ll also have something the Cavs don’t have. 2 lottery picks on rookie deals. Kristaps Porzingis isn’t due to become a restricted free agent until the summer of 2019. Barring a collapse of western civilization as we know it, there is no way he isn’t either extended before then, or the Knicks wouldn’t match any max offer he was presented. In addition to Porzingis, the Knicks would also still have Ntilikina and Hernangomez who had a nice rookie season. So that’s 3 young pieces with promise, along with still having cap space.
If they were ever able to get rid of the absolutely awful contract of Joakim Noah (I’d start by calling Kevin Pritchard, he seems like he may have a very loose relationship with rationale thought), and the bad, but not repulsive contract of Courtney Lee, then the Knicks from a salary cap stand point would be sitting pretty.
As far as their own future draft capital, the Knicks are currently not owed any first rounders from anyone, nor are they indebted to anyone. So they will have another couple of cracks at the draft lottery to pair with the foreign connection they’ve got going (New York is supposed to be a giant melting pot isn’t it? Chicago already sent them their tired and weary when Noah signed on last summer)
So purely from a rebuild standpoint the Knicks are better equipped than the Cavs. Even if the Cavs were able to ship out Irving and Love for draft picks, would those picks in the 2018 draft be better than where the Knicks would selecting? (If Lebron actually manned up in the time between the end of the 2018 season and the 2018 draft and stated his intentions to stay or leave, and it was announced he was bouncing, how attractive would Boston’s cache of picks look to a Cleveland team possibly poised to start a rebuild? Good enough to part with Kyrie Irving on the last year of his deal?) And the Knicks already have Porzingis in the fold for the long haul, putting them ahead of the Cavs for rebuild positioning.
Once you get past the brightness of each team’s future, you then have to examine other factors that may influence your employment decision. This bring us to the real heavy weight bout. Dolan vs. Gilbert.
The exact details of what has been transpiring in the Cavaliers offices this summer have not yet surfaced, but suffice to say, something smells funny. Starting with the jettisoning of executive David Griffin, followed by the pursuit of Chauncey Billups, leading into Billups rejecting what was reported to be a well below market salary offer for the position.
Combined that with the rumors that Griffin and Gilbert were at odds regarding the future of the team, the past history of Gilbert being unhinged (the “Lebron Letter”), and it paints the picture of a meddlesome owner hindering the ability of his general manager from performing the duties to the best of his abilities.
As bad as that look is, James Dolan looks like Charlie Sheen cracked out at the end of a 2 week long bender. Which is to say, not good.
The most inspiring thing James Dolan has done for the New York Knicks fan base was to fire, about 2 seasons too late, Phil Jackson, a man who would make Billy the Kid shed a tear in admiration with the way he was robbing Dolan blind. The most uninspiring thing he’s done is let Phil get away with absolute murder on his watch. Jackson had steadfastly refused to build his team any other way, than with the triangle offense in mind. Keep in mind that Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan were not walking through that door to run it, nor was Tex Winters the actual architect of the once revolutionary system walking in to teach it. Dolan sat back and watched as Jackson did his best to make his 2 franchise players, Carmelo and Porzingis rue the day they signed their New York Knickerbocker contracts. All the while Dolan was making a spectacle of himself with his public feud involving beloved Knicks alumnus Charles Oakley.
If Gilbert is the helicopter parent yelling at his kid’s youth soccer coach and writing letters to the principle because his kid wasn’t student of the month, then Dolan has been the absentee day off banging his secretary while the kids are at home with the nanny who is pounding 2 bottles of tequila a night, aka, Mary Poppin Pills.
At the end of the day, its a tough decision. Which situation is best from the future employment perspective? Live in New York, live in Cleveland? Can I just tele-commute from Baghdad? Uncertainty with upside, or a blank slate with tools to rebuild? Immediate pressure, or low expectations? Its a tough decision, and neither choice is sparkling with appeal. But like I said, Dan, Jimmy, don’t be afraid to hit me up. I’ll give it my best shot, go on, slide into those DMs.
- Jason Sullivan
- Find me on Twitter @TopDucker