If there’s one thing I learned in college, it’s that Wikipedia can teach you a hell of a lot. You can read about anything: the Siege of Tyre, perhaps, or what goes in a Red Death, or a list of sexual positions arranged by body torque. It’s one of the great innovations of the Internet age. Nothing tops it. Except possibly the Red Death.
Today on Wikipedia I learned that Renaldo Balkman will never, as long as he lives, contribute to a Mike D’Antoni-coached team. We’re all familiar with D’Antoni’s unusually staunch positions on certain players within his system – Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry were DOA, while Jared Jeffries could probably play ‘til he’s 45 as long as Mike D has a job. Most recently, of course, the Knicks turned a few heads with their surprise release of Corey Brewer in the aftermath of the Carmelo Anthony trade; as we saw in the playoffs, there were many, many better candidates for that release. But D’Antoni, sensing the old “he doesn’t fit our system” explanation might not pass muster, obfuscated the reality of the situation by making it seem like it wasn’t just an organizational move, it was a personal favor!
“We let [Brewer] go here because he got a two or three-year contract and some money and [his agent, Happy Walters] asked us for him to go,” D’Antoni told Newsday. “I thought we did the right thing as an organization, that we couldn’t promise him what we can have [in Dallas]. I think you have to take your hat off to the organization and to Donnie for doing the classy thing and let him do it. It’s not a question of can he or can he not play. He can play.”
He can play, just not for me, because I don’t like what he brings to my system. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong – ok, I am saying it’s wrong, although I do respect the stones it takes to make an unpopular move in the name of the team concept – but clearly this is the mask that Mike likes to put on questionable moves regarding guys he just doesn’t like for his system.
Now back to Balkman. In the summer of 2008, when the Knicks traded him to Denver for a second round pick (they also gave Denver cash and took back Taurean Green and Bobby Jones, who would both be released soon after – we almost paid Denver to take him), Mike D’Antoni said the following:
Renaldo really had no role after we drafted [Danilo] Gallinari, and with the emergence of Wilson Chandler his minutes would be nonexistent, so it really wasn’t fair to him to keep him in a spot that he wouldn’t play and also gives us an opportunity to clear up a roster spot and move on.
One of my rules in life: if your boss is trying to relocate your job from New York to Denver, he is not doing you a favor. Now Balkman is back, as an extra body shipped over to grease the skids for Melo, and the story is the same as ever. If you need proof, well, Balkman was one of two Knicks – with Derrick Brown – who got no burn against the Celtics for a team that pinned its game four hopes to Roger Mason and ran large chunks of offense through Jared Jeffries.
That Balkman had at one point carved out an effective game would seem to be immaterial to Knicks fans. He posted PER’s above 16 in two of his first three years in the league, doing most of the same things he did in college at South Carolina – a modicum of production in all categories with a high shooting percentage. That production combined with rugged, versatile defense earned Balkman a three-year extension from Denver, which sounds excessive until you realize that Denver might be the marijuana capital of the United States. The last two years, of course, have tempered most of the early enthusiasm: Balkman missed almost all of last season with a back injury, and this year, despite claiming full health, couldn’t crack Denver’s rotation and then wore a tie for the Jeffries/Mason variety hour.
On the off-chance Balkman shrugs off the last two years (plus a notable decline in athleticism) to return to his pre-injury best, I say it makes no difference; this ship has sailed. Balkman is signed through the 2012-13 season, but he’s only owed $3.35M during that span, so this is a tradeable contract should D’Antoni feel the urge to do Balkman another “favor.” In fact, if Balkman is to revitalize his career, that favor may prove invaluable – a player can overcome one or two down years, but if Balkman follows those up with two more full seasons under D’Antoni, his current contract is likely to be his last.