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No Melo, But Nuggets-Knicks Deal Intrigues

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For some reasons that are only somewhat clear to me at this point, I wrote back in January that Renaldo Balkman would be a player worth acquiring for several teams around the league.  Six months later, it appears that his own team doesn't seem to feel that way.

ESPN reported late Monday that the Knicks and Nuggets completed a trade sending Balkman to Denver in exchange for Taurean Green, Bobby Jones and a second-round pick.

The fun part here is that Newsday's Ken Berger's report indicates that the Knicks are expected to wave Green and Jones, thus making the deal strictly about clearing Balkman's salary.  Of course, with Balkman only set to make $1.32 million this year (when did such chump change became an issue for the Knicks?) and with the Knicks holding a team option for next year, meaning that they are not committed to paying him anything beyond his 2008-09 salary yet, it certainly seems that the only reason the 'Bockers want to make this move is because they can't get Balkman out the door quickly enough.

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Nobody was accusing Balkman of being any great shakes after his rookie season, but he seemed to show some potential by the end of the first campaign.  The guy loves to get up and down the floor, plays hard defensively, crashes the glass and can finish on the fast break.  His lack of finesse-based offensive skills and the need for refinement of the use of his abundant energy seemed to be something that could be addressed by some hard work in the off-season.

Instead, Balkman turned in an abysmal sophomore campaign.  Since Gus Johnson merrily exclaimed, "Kevin Durant has no answer for...Renaldo Balkman!" in a summer league game last year, it's been all downhill.  He had his minutes jerked around with regularity by Isiah Thomas, but he also saw his per-minute production drop precipitously (from 11.3 points and 9.9 boards per 36 minutes to 8.5 points and 8.2 boards), and he failed to play consistently solid basketball off the bench.  Balkman didn't make the expected strides toward becoming more of a stopper of the bench and continued to commit bad fouls in bunches.  Offensively, Balkman made no improvement to his putrid outside shooting, didn't move the ball all that well and wasn't as much of a finisher on the fast break for an atrocious Knicks team.  Word from Berger is that the Knicks didn't expect him to function well in new coach Mike D'Antoni's system because of his limited decision-making skills and lack of shooting touch, so they looked to dump him.

While Balkman did have a poor season, it was only his second year, and if he is going to be able to put some of his high energy to good use, it will probably have to come in an environment other than New York at this point.  Sometimes a change of scenery is the way to go, and given the teammates and influences surrounding him in New York, it was likely time for him to move on to a new set-up.  While some of the characters in Denver might not be optimal either, Balkman will likely enjoy George Karl's top-paced system in Denver.  He won't be asked to do much scoring in Denver but merely to run the floor, play defense and crash hard, all of which are tasks of which Balkman is likely still capable. 

Sadly, Balkman will fit in well with an undisciplined basketball team that is more successful at what it does than the previous undiscplined team for which he played, and while that might not actually help him grow as a player, it will likely make him look as though he is doing a better job when he is on the floor.  Balkman might at least have a chance at finding his niche in Denver, and it will be nice to see him get the opportunity.  But while I'm not a complete hater of the guy, consider me at least a few steps off my prior belief that this guy is on his way to becoming a very solid role player in this league.  Last year's performance clearly took some luster off of that.

In the meantime, it might not hurt the Knicks to find a way to keep Green around if they can.  He didn't play much in his rookie campaign, but he was a solid college point guard who played for a two-time national champion, made good decisions and did whatever he was asked to on the floor.  It's nearly impossible to have too many guys like that, particularly on a Knicks team that has gone through quite a rough patch at the point over the last few years. 

Regardless of what happens with Green, some Knicks fans are simply thrilled with the idea of continuing to dismantle the dynastic roster established under the Isiah Regime.  Meadville Tribune reporter and Knicks loyalist Bill Powell puts it best: "So they dumped Balkman for nothing?  Sounds great by me.  Let me know when this team can trade Mardy Collins for two guys that they're going to waive, and count me in for that, too."

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