Yesterday, my esteemed colleague Dan Litvin wrote an exceptionally well-reasoned post about the controversial acquisition of Andrea Bargnani and why it was the wrong move for the Knicks. You should read it.
I’m here to tell you why he’s wrong.
The Time Value of Bargnani
Like many other critics of the deal, Dan believes that the Knicks were foolish to give up a future first-round draft pick and two second-rounders for a player that may very well have been cut loose on amnesty waivers. He bases that argument, in part, on the fact that the Knicks would have had about a 35% chance of getting a player as valuable as Bargnani with a 2016 pick in the 16-21 range.
To his credit, Dan admits that his “as valuable as” metric is pretty subjective. But let’s assume, for the sake of this discussion, that he’s spot on. Are the Knicks better off with Bargnani today, or a 35% chance at a similar or better player in 2016? I’m about the farthest thing from a “Wall Street guy” – but I have picked up a few finance concepts over the years. One is “the Time Value of Money,” the idea that money today is worth more than money tomorrow, mostly on account of the fact that today’s sum can be invested to produce a more immediate return. (In some circles, this is also known as present value.)
You know the old saying, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush?” Well, consider this the NBA version.
Now, I’m not suggesting that the 2016 first-rounder the Knicks traded away to acquire doesn’t have value. I am saying that it is a slippery slope to assess the potential value of a player the Knicks might draft in the future against the value of a player that is here today. And while Dan rightly points out that the 2016 team is likely to be capped-out and in dire of need low-cost, high-upside draft talent, the 2013-14 Knicks are just as capped-out and, depending on who you ask, just as in need of talent.
As for the “But Toronto was Going to Waive the Guy, Anyway!” argument, consider this: the acquisition of Bargnani simply filled the salary slots vacated by Steve Novak and Marcus Camby, ultimately giving the Knicks the flexibility to use their remaining cap exceptions on other players. In essence, the ‘Bockers turned those future draft picks – potential assets, as they were – into present day, useful assets.
The Changing Free-Agent Marketplace
So how will the Knicks fill out their roster in 2016? Ironically, take another look at that list of players Dan identified as “Bargnani equivalents,” and consider how many of them were available this summer. (Heck – several of them, including Leandro Barbosa, Roddy Beaubois and Rudy Fernandez – are still unsigned.)
Under the Current CBA’s salary cap rules, most teams seem content to spend big on their top guys and supplement their rosters with players making closer to the minimum. (Call it the Pat Riley Keys to Success model.) And, perhaps not unexpectedly, more and more veterans appear willing to take shorter or less-lucrative contracts in exchange for championship contention or desirable cities, both of which should work to the Knicks’ advantage when they look to re-tool around Carmelo Anthony after the 2014-15 season.
So was it a good deal or not?
Bargnani – if he’s healthy – might actually emerge as the Knicks’ second option on offense. Opposing teams aren’t likely to have an answer for a stretch forward that can match up against fours on the defensive end while functioning as a three on offense. The latter scenario becomes doubly imporant when you consider that the Knicks’ greatest weapon is playing ‘Melo at PF against slower, less agile defenders.
Will Bargs be enough to get the Knicks to the Conference Finals? Maybe, maybe not, but he sure gives them a better chance than they had last year.