Knicks VP Donnie Walsh has been around the game long enough to know about the Kiki Exchange, a lopsided trade in which a team trades multiple players for a volume scorer.
If you’re not aware who Kiki Vandeweghe was before becoming the New Jersey Nets’ bumbling coach, he was a one-dimensional basketball player who understood one language. Even though he was bilingual, in basketball, he only knew one word.
God bless his German soul, but he was good at it. Some would even argue that he was great at it. In his career, he averaged more than 20 points eight times, with a career high 30.2 points a game for the Denver Nuggets.
That was his last season with Denver. The Nuggets, up until then a floundering franchise post ABA, cashed in on the small forward with one deadly move, the jab step, fadeaway jumper.
Like the Nuggets of today, they needed to rebuild a franchise — and instead of starting from zilch, bartered away their most precious commodity, whose high scoring averages somehow masked the fact that he couldn’t play defense, was an awful rebounder and didn’t care much about anything else but scoring.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it.
The Nuggets were afterthoughts. They were a high scoring team with Vandeweghe and Alex English hogging ball time, combining for 56 points a game. But to make a serious run at the playoffs, they thought, hey why not trade one of our buncha scorer for five guys who will at least make up for the 30 points we lose a night, and then add some rebounding, defense, and all the other little shit that prick never did that will make us a better team?
So they did.
In 1984, the Nuggets sent Vandeweghe packing to Portland for center Wayne Cooper, forward Calvin Natt, point guard Fat Lever, a first round pick that turned into center Blair Rasmussen and a second round pick that became Willie White.
Five guys for one. And Portland thought, wow, that’s a fair deal, now isn’t it?
Kiki would give Portland four 20 plus points a game seasons, including a Blazers high of 26.2 ppg. Vandweghe was paired with Clyde Drexler, Jim Paxson and intermittently for obvious reasons, Sam Bowie, making Portland a perennial playoff contender. Like George Clooney and the Batman series, Portland and playoffs during the Vandeweghe era was tragically short.
God damnit, they just didn’t play defense.
The Nuggets? Well, the five players they got turned out to be the kind of package you put around Alex English.
The biggest prize was the even now underrated Lever, who came dangerously close to having a Big O type season. In his third Nuggets season, Lever scored 18 points a game, dished eight assists and grabbed eight plus rebounds a game.
He’d make his mark as perhaps the best rebounding point guard. In two seasons, he recorded a career high average of 9.3 rebounds, and that’s just unheard of even by today’s standards. In the 88-89 season, Lever almost averaged triple double again, grabbing 9 rebounds, dishing out 7.9 assists and scoring 19 points a game.
A straight up trade would have been laughably lopsided in favor of the Nuggets.
Natt on the other hand was short for a power forward, but was just as wide as anyone. Think of Dejuan Blair with scoring flair. While he only gave Denver two seasons — knee injuries prematurely ended his career — he averaged a high of 23 points a game in his first season, while grabbing about 7 rebounds. His scoring dipped to 17 and then 10 before vanishing from the face of NBA lore.
Wayne Cooper may have been a bogey center during that era, overshadowed by better ones like Robert Parish, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing. But he gave the Nuggets five years of seven to eight rebounds a game,back-to-back seasons where he scored in double figures, and about two shot blocks a game.
He would lose his starting job to Rasmussen, a slick scoring seven footer who was at least 18 times better than Jon Koncak and Joe Kleine combined. For a modern perspective, think of Marcin Gortat.
Denver gave up an instant 30 points, but gained it back as Natt, Cooper and Lever combined for about 47 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists in the first season of the deal.
Will the ‘Melo trade haunt the Knicks? Can we file this under the Kiki Exchange? Will I rename the Kiki Exchange after Carmelo Anthony?
Anthony is a better scorer, even if his scoring averages match up with the guy who drafted him out of Syracuse and into Denver. Kiki had one move. Anthony has tons. Kiki had a deadly outside jumper. Anthony has an excellent one, plus post up and slashes. When he’s motivated, Anthony can rebound. Vandeweghe could have tried and maybe it wouldn’t have mattered much.
When Denver made the Kiki Exchange, they got pieces they invested in for the long term. Now, the Nuggets are maybe looking at Timofey Mozgov, who would be lucky to be the next Cooper or Rasmussen, and Danilo Gallinari, another all offense, no defense type whose scoring arsenal is vastly inferior to Carmelo. With the Kroenkes looking to save cash, it’s 50-50 on whether they’d match any offer on upcoming restricted free agent Wilson Chandler. With coach George Karl committed to Ty Lawson, it’s almost certain that Raymond Felton will play somewhere else once his one year contract expires.
But the Knicks aren’t in the clear just yet. They gave up three draft picks, one of which is a first rounder. That’s too far into the future to take into account right now, and it’s likely that the 2014 first round pick lands somewhere between the low teens to the mid 20s based on future projections for New York’s performance.
New York is getting 24 points from Anthony, and he’s going to stay within that range for the next three years. Right now, the Nuggets are getting 18 points from Galo, 14 from Chandler and 10 from Felton. That’s 42 points lost. While Galo and Chandler danced around those same totals with the Knicks, Felton was averaging as high as 18 with New York.
Take into account that Galo and Chandler are grabbing a combined 10 rebounds, plus Felton’s seven assists, and it’s clear that, for this season, the Knicks gave up more than it received.
Taking Chauncey Billups into account, the Knicks have equaled the scoring gap. But Felton is still getting more assists as a backup than does Billups as a starter. The difference in rebounding is negligible.
Additionally, Galo’s points and rebounding total is a mirage, for now. He’s played in all of four games. So adding up the scoring totals for Melo/Billups to the trio of Chandler/Galo/Felton, and the Knicks come out ahead.
But with a short sample size, the Nuggets are much better than the Knicks post Melo. They’ve gone 9-4, while the Knicks have wobbled through 7-8. While one can argue that it’s harder to integrate a superstar with another who demands the ball just as much, that doesn’t take into account that the Knicks’ mentality fits with Melo’s. Or that it’s just as hard to integrate four new players taking on almost equally large roles in Denver.
Here’s the kicker, though — and this is what could haunt the Knicks.
The Nuggets are a better defensive team. Way better. Staggerigly better. Celtics-like, even.
Without Carmelo Anthony, Karl can now run a defensive scheme, and it shows. Denver is allowing 10 less points per 100 possessions, going from Warriors-like to Celtics-like. That’s mind boggling. A team allows 10 less points by subtracting one guy?
The Knicks’ defense hasn’t really suffered using the per 100 points metric, going up by two points with Anthony. But the Knicks are already a horrible defensive team.
There’s a telling Carmelo quote that should scare Knicks fans a bit. Right now, they can chalk up the sordid defense on Mike D’Antoni’s preferred style. Change the coach, and the team plays defense, right?
Not necessarily. Melo is so averse to defense that he complained about having to run different defensive systems — while under D’Antoni! It’s clear that he’s got no interest in the concept much less in applying it.