I’ll be the first to admit that when Donnie Walsh stepped down as general manager of the Knicks, I was nervous. Rumors of an Isiah Thomas return hovered over the franchise like a black cloud, threatening to expel the Knicks back into salary cap hell and a purgatory of mediocrity. When Glen Grunwald was hired – a man already employed with the Knicks, who had ties to Isiah Thomas – my fears were not alleviated.
And for that, I’m happy to say I was wrong. Since the lockout ended (ugh, remember that thing?), Grunwald has done nothing if not turn a team with a solid core, but gaping holes into one of the deepest outfits in the NBA, brimming with talent.
It was announced this afternoon that Grunwald’s “interim” general manager tag has been removed and he will carry on as the team’s official GM. A move so smart and stable, it hardly seems like it would come from a franchise that tends to revel in drama and dysfunction. But Grunwald’s work speaks for itself.
When the lockout ended in early December, a free agency frenzy ensued, and the Knicks came away with one of the offseason’s biggest prizes: Tyson Chandler. Chandler was acquired in a sign-and-trade that involved the amnesty of veteran point guard Chauncey Billups. Though the move was questioned by some – the Knicks were left with a glaring hole at the point guard position – it has proven to be well worth the while. Chandler (with the help of Mike Woodson) has spear-headed revolution that installed a defensive culture unlike anything the Knicks have seen since Jeff Van Gundy stalked the sidelines. Chandler is also averaging a double-double (11.3 ppg, 10 rpg) and leads the league in field goal percentage (68.1%).
Grunwald recognized the Knicks’ hole in the back-court and added Mike Bibby (who while wholly unimpressive has given the Knicks depth), and acquired Baron Davis who the Cleveland Cavaliers released via the amnesty clause.
Of course, Grunwald’s biggest point guard snag was the least noted and the least celebrated at the time: Jeremy Lin. As everyone has surely learned by now, Lin was waived by the Golden State Warriors before the season began, claimed by the Houston Rockets, who then also waived him, and finally picked up by the Knicks once the regular season was underway. Though Grunwald surely did not see “Linsanity” happening, he had kept track of Lin ever since he worked out for the Knicks before the 2010 NBA Draft. It was Lin who turned the Knicks’ depressing season around and helped get them back into the playoff picture.
Grunwald was spurned by Shawne Williams in the off-season (he chose a bigger offer from the New Jersey Nets), and instead signed Steve Novak who was waived by the San Antonio Spurs. Novak has turned into the best three-point shooter in the NBA, shooting at a 46.8% clip from beyond the arc. The addition of J.R. Smith was due to savvy planning by Grunwald. After being turned down by Williams and other free agents like Jamal Crawford, Grunwald saved the Knicks’ “room exception” (a two-year, five-million-dollar offer) until Smith returned from playing in China. The Knicks in turn were able to offer more money to Smith than any other team. The additions of Novak and Smith have given the Knicks one of the most potent benches in the league.
However, the work that lies ahead of Grunwald won’t be any easier. This coming off-season, Jeremy Lin, Landry Fields, J.R. Smith (player option), Steve Novak, Jared Jeffries, Baron Davis, and Mike Bibby will all become free agents. The Knicks have “Bird Rights” to Landry Fields, which allows them to pay Fields as much as they like (also as much as he is eligible for – players essentially get raises for their allowed maximum salaries as they play longer in the NBA) regardless of cap space. Thanks to a provision in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Knicks will also be able to match any offer Jeremy Lin receives and are likely to keep him. However, they’ll have to use their mid-level exception to give Lin his due pay day, which lessens their chances of re-signing Novak and Smith who are likely to field bigger offers. Smith already appears to be headed in that direction.
When healthy, the Knicks are a team with incredible depth and talent, and that’s in large part due to the clever and keen financial dealings of Grunwald. Though his work is far from finished, it seems wise and just that Grunwald will be the man behind the scenes, working to bring the Knicks to the ultimate prize.