Friday, February 20, 2009

A Rose By Any Other Name Is... Younger, Faster, And Named Chris Wilcox

WWOD? Rates the Rose/Wilcox Swap

Malik Rose arrived in New York via trade (for Nazr Mohammed) during the 2004-2005 season. He played in 26 games down the stretch that year (under Herb Williams who had taken over for a deposed Lenny Wilkens) and averaged a shade over 23 minutes per contest. The following season he started in 35 games, the majority of which were late in the season as injuries took their toll on the club. In each season since his minutes have dropped precipitously. In 2008-09, Rose played in 18 games for the Knicks and averaged 8.9 minutes in those games that he did play. That leaves 35 games when he never got off the bench while the game was on. In his prime, he was a dogged defender who could be counted on to go after bigger post players and do everything he could to move them off the block. He would also get two or three buckets a night without having a play called for him. He was the glue guy of a championship Spurs squad. He was the sort of limited player that fits a role on a top-flight club and the sort of player that was too limited to make a difference on a bad team. Like the Knicks. By all accounts, Rose is a great teammate and as dogged in his charity work as he was working in the paint.

Yesterday, Knicks President Donnie Walsh shipped Rose to the StolenSonics in exchange for Chris Wilcox. The Knicks also included "cash considerations" to make up the small difference between the two contracts (small difference = less than a million dollars).

Ultimately, we traded away an older guy who rarely plays for a younger guy with some of the same skills who might actually play. And we did it without affecting the salary cap. I'm for this, in theory. I think the Knicks roster has had too many dead spots this season and this eliminates one of them at approximately zero cost.

Chris Wilcox is playing in his sixth NBA season after a noticeable (but, perhaps not noteworthy) career at the University of Maryland. He was drafted with the No. 8 pick in the 2002 draft by the Los Angeles Clippers. The Knicks tapped Nene with the No. 7 pick (and quickly traded him to the Nuggets) but had actually worked out Wilcox. At the time, I think was pulling for Wilcox selection. But this was probably because I was a college student who had just watched him help the Terps to a title. In those days, he was athletic and powerful. Unpolished and unrelenting. I liked those things then. I still do.

Before enrolling at Maryland, Wilcox led his high school squad to a state title in North Carolina. So, the guy grew up as a winner. And, then he ended up playing for the Clippers. Where he won less. After four forgettable seasons in LaLa land he was traded to the Seattle Sonics. He "blossomed" in the Emerald City, averaging more than 13 points and 7 rebounds in each of the last three seasons. His numbers were down across the boxscore this season - including an almost ten minute drop in minutes per game. The StolenSonics originally package him in the deal for Tyson Chandler. That deal was rescinded and he was quickly turned around and shipped to New York.

At worst, Wilcox is a version of Rose that Coach D'Antoni can feel comfortable about putting into a game. Even if he doesn't crack the regular rotation, he's a younger, taller, faster and stronger version of Rose. For about the contract and without any long-term implications. At best, Wilcox is a guy who can join the frontcourt rotation and toughen up the Knicks interior defense. He's the guy that takes the hard foul last week when the Knicks were being run over in Oakland against the Warriors. He takes some of the minutes off of Lee's plate, which should serve to keep him rested and to slightly depress his numbers (which will only help the club as we look to sign him to a contract after the season).

The biggest (and perhaps only) thing the Knicks lose by parting ways with Rose is his off-the-court leadership and his influence on the younger players. I would contend, though, that these things were much more necessary and valuable when the team was mired in dysfunction than they are now. When the team was being torn asunder by the feud between Isiah Thomas and Stephon Marbury or the feud between Isiah Thomas and the City of New York it was important to have Rose calming the younger players and staying on an even keel as the world burned around them. I think that skillset is less necessary on a team listening to its coach and not under siege from its fans.

Although it's hard to say that this trade is a resounding success at first sight, I think it's a deal that reaffirms the team's commitment to making the playoffs this season.

Grade: B

No comments: