Mike D'Antoni left one starter on the court through extensive, second-half garbage time in the 50-point epic loss to Dallas. Rather than give the burn to veteran Larry Hughes, D'Antoni kept Chris Duhon in the game in an obvious attempt to get the struggling point guard out of his slump. Even John Starks, who took a courtside seat along celebrity row, had a few words for Duhon while Wilson Chandler shot free throws in the first half.
Let's review the direct impact the point guard position has had on the Knicks this season:
In October, the team was 0-3. Duhon shot 26.9% from the field and 14.3% from three-point range. He averaged 7.7 points and 6.3 assists.
In November, the team was 3-11. Duhon shot 28.3% from the field and 24.1% from three. His numbers dipped to 6.9 points and 6.1 assists.
In the successful month of December, the team went 9-6. Duhon's numbers were the best of the season: 43.2% from the floor and 46.3% from beyond the arc. His scoring was up to 12.1 points and 6.9 assists.
Here in January, the team is 5-6 so far and check out Duhon's numbers: 30.8% field goals, 29.8% threes and his production is a season-low 5.3 points and 5.4 assists.
So, factually speaking, as Duhon goes, so go the Knicks.
Or perhaps it's better to say, production at the point guard position is so obviously critical to the team's success.
The Knicks tried to ride this out last season and it cost them a shot at a playoff berth, a futile drive that disintergrated after the all-star break. D'Antoni remains steadfast in his support of Duhon this season, but that's bound to change the moment someone more effective finally emerges. Rookie Toney Douglas was given yet another shot at making a case for himself on Sunday, as D'Antoni gave him the third guard role (over Hughes) vacated by injured Nate Robinson and Douglas was very ineffective.
It seems evident that Donnie Walsh will have to try to find the answer in a trade (or perhaps a vets min signing?) before the Feb. 18 deadline. One thing Walsh can take out of Sunday's brutal loss is that the Mavericks sure have plenty of depth at the point guard position. Jason Kidd didn't play (personal reasons), which put the ball in the hands of J.J. Barea, who is very quick (small, but also very tough), can run an offense and he certainly can knock down shots when he needs to.
Barea has a $1.65 million salary (pending restricted free agent) and the Knicks happen to have a $1.6M trade exception they have yet to use. Would Dallas, considering they have sharp-shooting rookie Roddy Beaubois on the bench, make that kind of move? Probably not.
But keep looking around the league. The Grizzlies are always going to be conscious of the luxury tax threshold and they have extra guards. Jamaal Tinsley (expiring $1,033,733) isn't the best finisher, but he knows how to run an offense and hit the open man. He has helped the Grizzlies this season and has done well in his comeback after the fallout in Indiana. Walsh knows Tinsley well and the Brooklyn native would love the opportunity to play for the Knicks.
With Tinsley, the Knicks could up the tempo more and get out and run more with Wilson Chandler, David Lee, Danilo Gallinari and Nate Robinson as finishers.
But is that really enough?
Sacramento is also loaded with guards, especially with the return of Kevin Martin. Though there were some rumors about teams inquiring about the oft-injured Martin (Knicks need to visit this in the offseason for sure), the Kings appear to be interested in seeing how Rookie of the Year favorite Tyreke Evans looks with Martin with him in the backcourt before they make any rash decisions.
But Martin's return means less minutes for Sergio Rodriguez, who has longed to play in New York and for D'Antoni. Rodriguez's salary ($1.89 million) just makes it for the Knicks to offer their exception (125 percent rule). For the Kings, it gets them closer to the salary cap and saves some money. For the Knicks, it gets them a crafty playmaker who is having a terrific year (44.7% FG, 37.8 3PT%, 3.1 assists/1.4 turnovers in 13.2 minutes per game) and would be a good short-term solution. Rodriguez will be a restricted free agent this summer with a $2.8M qualifyer. The Knicks could waive this to clear him from the 2010 salary cap or, if he fares well, they could retain him for a very cheap price.
The Knicks could use their trade exception to entice the Portland Trail Blazers into giving up Rudy Fernandez ($1.16 million), who isn't a point guard but would upgrade their talent. Or push the Blazers to consider a player swap for Steve Blake ($4.9M expiring). The question, of course, is what would the Blazers want for Blake? Know this: Kevin Pritchard isn't going to just give Blake away, especially to a team he knows desperately needs a point guard.
Walsh brought in his scouts to meet and discuss all options before the trade deadline. Even Kevin Wilson, the team's European scout who pushed Walsh to draft Danilo Gallinari, is in town. Wilson is very close to the family of one heralded point guard prospect that remains very much on the radar: Ricky Rubio.
In 10 games for Regal FC Barcelona, Rubio isn't exactly putting up huge numbers. In fact, they look very similar to Duhon's production: 6.4 points, 5.6 assists and shooting 38.1 percent from the field. But people -- especially Wilson -- remain enamored with the 19-year-old's potential and the kind of impact he could have in the NBA game.
As Berman wrote in today's Post, the Knicks haven't given up on working out something with the Minnesota Timberwolves if or when David Kahn decides to move the 2009 lottery pick. And there is a belief that the Knicks, with the New York market, would have the leverage to work something out with Barcelona to release Rubio from his contract earlier than the 2011-12 season, which is in his contract.
Of course before all of this you must consider that the Knicks right now can't do anything with their trade exception until they open up a roster spot. The NBA has not yet completed Cuttino Mobley's medical retirement, so he remains on the roster and counts against the cap.
But you can be assured that if Walsh does anything before the Feb. 18 deadline -- and all indications are he plans to -- it will involve a point guard.