Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Mannix Depressive

I thought this Chris Mannix article, featured overnight and this morning on CNNsi, deserved a little response, though I don't want to seem too much like I'm defending the home team.

Let me focus on something I've done a little research on, Mannix's discussion of Billy Knight on his list as to who in the NBA should be fired. Here's the Knight portion:

You can't fire coach Mike Woodson -- at least not if you have any shred of conscience. Not when you give him a roster like that. Yes, Joe Johnson is better than we all thought. But Marvin Williams continues to struggle while Chris Paul is clearing space in his trophy case for the Rookie of the Year award. Where is the effort? Why are Reggie Evans, Vladimir Radmanovic and Chris Wilcox being dealt at yard sales while Esteban Batista plays seven minutes a night? The Hawks' owners -- whoever they are -- need to act fast with Knight before he pulls an Al Harrington-for-Stephon Marbury out of his hat. Because you know that's coming.

Well... I've looked at Knight's tenure at the Hawks, and I've come to a different conclusion. My personal opinion is that the decisions Knight has already made will determine his legacy and the reasons for him keeping or losing his job, but that those decisions already made still can't be described as good or bad, at least not yet.

Mannix, seems to think Knight should be fired for three reasons (though he seems to give him credit for one other). Let's look at each one by one.

1) Drafting Williams over Paul: First off, if one only looks at the 2006 season, drafting Williams was a terrible mistake. But Knight wasn't drafting for 2006 alone. Marvin Williams is 19 years old, still growing and bulking up, and has shown signs of promise - the reason why he was drafted. Marvin was drafted because he has the potential to be a perennial all-star. If he achieves that, it'll be a good pick. If he doesn't, it won't. But we don't know this, and can't know it for at least another year, probably two or more. Chris Paul has been great, but he's also trailed off some this season, and he's several years older than Marvin. In the short view, Paul should've been the #1 overall pick. But in the long view, we still don't know. And I don't think we should always knock a draft pick for thinking long term instead of short term, especially when the team in question isn't going to make a huge leap anyway. So is missing on Paul so bad a decision it merits firing Knight? Possibly, but we won't know that until 2008 or 2009.

2) Failure to trade for a power forward: This sentence really troubled me, in that it made no sense. Mannix seems to say Knight has made a mistake in not trading for any number of mediocre frontcourt players when the Hawks' frontcourt is lacking. Well, OK. But there are a billion possible trades out there. Do we really think about firing people because of trade possibilities in the head of some writer not getting made? Also, what is he talking about in saying Evans, Wilcox and Radmanovic were given away at yard sales? Evans was a part of the Earl Watson trade. The Hawks had nothing as good to offer. Wilcox and Radmanovic were traded FOR EACH OTHER! If one was given away "at a yard sale" for the other, what does that mean about them both? It either means they both suck, and the Hawks shouldn't have wanted them, or it means that they weren't merely given away. Also, I'm not going to say Batista is great, or even all that good, but he's only averaging 7 minutes a game spelling Zaza (and his rebounds per 48 mins really isn't that bad, either). Knock Zaza (which I don't think you can all that much) or the strategy of playing two threes and a four instead of a three, a four and a five, but there's not much to do in knocking Batista.

3) Knight might trade Al Harrington for Stephon Marbury or something like that: This tells me Mannix really has no idea of what kind of GM Knight is. Knight, in all his time as GM for the Hawks, has never made a move that put the Hawks in a worse cap-space position than before the move. Never. Not once. Look at the Hawks transaction history, all the way back to when Knight was hired. The only time when something even in the ballpark (and I don't think it's that close) was the Glenn Robinson trade, but that was still under Babcock, it was just as the Hawks thought they were making a giant leap forward, and in any event Knight corrected it within a year, gaining cap space in the process. Knight has no history like Isiah or Billy King. Knight's past performance indicates that he's a stockpiler, whether it's young talent, draft picks or cap space. You might complain that Knight might dump Al Harrington for "cap space" and then not use it. You might complain that Knight doesn't quite get enough back when he trades guys for cap space. But Knight hasn't ever made a trade where he's given up cap flexibility in exchange for a name player. So the last sentence is just unfair.

4) The Joe Johnson trade: Yes, Joe is good, and better than any of us thought. Billy Knight's judgment of talent should be considered sharp, well sort of. Knight did give up Boris Diaw, who has turned into a pretty damn good player. And that trade still hasn't been completed. The Hawks still owe the Suns a draft pick, and it'll likely be in the 2007 draft, which should be loaded with talent. Is Joe good? Absolutely. Was Joe worth what we gave up just for the ability to pay him more than a max contract? Well... maybe. The point, again, is that Knight's decision has been made, but the effects of that decision have not yet been seen. It might end up great, it might not. We'll see. But in any event, Knight can't get congratulated for making a good deal, as Mannix seems to write.

And that's the thing: Mannix gets Knight wrong in just about every manner. Where he thinks Knight's done a good job, it's still up in the air, and could go sour pretty strongly. Where he thinks Knight's done a bad job, the job done is still up in the air, the flaw is irrelevant, or the claim is factually incorrect. Knight might belong on this list, but in an odd way, we won't know whether he really deserves it until it might be too late.