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Knicks’ Top Priority: Find a Center
Posted By Tommy Beer On November 27, 2011 @ 10:00 am In All,NBA | No Comments
The lockout was obviously tough for basketball fans all over the globe, but many long-suffering New Yorkers were particularly depressed. Knicks’ fans had waited over a decade for a team they could cheer for. After adding Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony to Amar’e Stoudemire and company, the Knicks, for the first time in a long time, finally had the pieces in place to be considered legit contenders. But the lockout, and the threat of losing the entire 2011-2012 NBA season, greatly dampened the hopes of hoops loving New Yorkers.
With the glorious news that the NBA lockout, at long last, has come to end, optimism and expectations are once again sky-high in NYC.
With an experienced and talented (if aging) point guard flanked by two all-NBA forwards, New York has a nucleus to build around and one which fans can finally get excited about. However, although the main building blocks are in place, there are definitely holes that need to be filled. Chief among these is finding a legit center that rebounds and defends. The motivation here is twofold: adding a starting center is necessary to improve the short-term prospects of the team this season; but arguably more important the Knicks must protect their $100 million investment in Amar’e Stoudemire and adding a big man to guard opposing centers and protect the paint is a critically important move for the organization to make.
As I have discussed often in this space, Amar’e has been worn down over the past few years, and his body has begun to show the ill effects. Over the previous two NBA seasons, Stoudemire has played 180 games – including payoff contests – for two quick-strike, up-tempo teams. He played all 82 regular season games for the Suns in 2009-2010, and tacked on another 16 in the postseason. Then he played 78 of the Knicks’ 82 in 2010-2011, plus four more in the first round. Moreover, during his debut season in New York, Stoudemire averaged a career-high 36.5 minutes per game.
The wear-and-tear on Amar’e is undeniable. Should we really have been shocked when Stoudemire’s back gave out against Boston last April? Going forward, this is a reality the Knicks have to address and confront proactively. The shortened regular season (only 66 games as opposed to the traditional 82-game slate) will help, but that alone certainly won’t fix the problem.
Not only does Head Coach Mike D’Antoni need to reduce Stoudemire’s minutes each night, he also needs to lessen the load on STAT’s shoulders when Amar’e is on the floor. Stoudemire should spend less time at the “5” and more time at his natural power forward spot.
In order to make this happen, New York obviously needs to import a legit starting center. However, it’s obviously not quite that simple…
The specific salary cap figures have yet to be released, but with $51 million dollars committed to the trio of Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, and Chauncey Billups next season, New York won’t have enough space to splurge on one of the top-tier free agent centers. In addition, one of the Knicks clear objectives will be maintaining ample cap space for the 2012 class of free agents – which may include Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard. The ideal scenario would be adding one of those superstars to a core including Melo and Amar’e.
The bottom line is that the Knicks will likely have to get creative.
While there will be a handful of talented centers on the market during this upcoming frenzied free agent bonanza, they are not realistic options for NY. Nene will be offered major money from every team with cap space. Marc Gasol will be a restricted FA, but expect the Grizz to do everything in their power to lock him up long-term. Young up-and-comer DeAndre Jordan will also be restricted, and the Clippers would likely match any reasonable offer he receives. Tyson Chandler will be unrestricted, but if Mark Cuban has been so willing to vastly overpay for bad centers, imagine how much he’ll pony up to keep Chandler in Dallas.
After those four, there is a significant drop-off to the next tier of available big men.
One name which has generated considerable buzz in New York has been Samuel Dalembert. Dalembert has some tri-state-area connections, having attended high school and college in New Jersey. On the surface, this seems like a decent fit. Slammin’ Sammy is a seven-footer that can board and block some shots. However, an in-depth look at the numbers leads me to a different conclusion. Dalembert would improve the Knicks next season, but would the pros outweigh the cons in the long run?
At this stage of the game, you know what you are going to get with Sam. Last season in Sacramento, Dalembert averaged 8.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. For his career, he has averaged 8.1 points and 8.3 boards. Considering the dearth of quality centers in today’s NBA (and currently on the Knicks roster), those numbers are obviously nothing to sneeze at. Still, Dalembert doesn’t quite fit New York’s needs. In the past, he’s been a guy that gripes if he doesn’t get enough shots. The Knicks obviously don’t need to add a scorer; they already have that end of the court covered. Ideally, they would add a bruiser that would board and protect the tin. A defensive-minded center willing to set screens and do the little things– this is a prescription for what ails New York down low. Dalembert just isn’t that player.
Dalembert isn’t a guy looking to mix it up inside or intimidate in the paint. He’s far too comfortable floating around the perimeter, settling for long jumpers. Take a look at these stats: Per Hoopdata.com, last season Dalembert attempted just 2.9 shots “at the rim” per game. In contrast, he averaged 2.7 field-goal attempts from 10-23 feet away from the basket. Not exactly the shot selection you prefer from a seven-footer. Also, consider this: The Philadelphia 76ers won 27 games in 2009-2010 with Dalembert as their starting center. After trading him in the summer of 2010, Philly won 41 games without him in 2010-2011.
Again, Dalembert would clearly be an upgrade for New York next season, but offering him a long-term contract would be a short-sighted and regrettable decision. If he wants to settle for a one-year deal (he won’t), then by all means, bring him in. But that’s not going to happen, so the Knicks will likely have to keep searching.
Some other (less appealing?) free-agent centers that will be on the Knicks radar this month include: Spencer Hawes (restricted), Jeff Foster, Kwame Brown, Joel Przybilla, Erick Dampier, Nazr Mohammed, Kurt Thomas, Aaron Gray, Ryan Hollins and Jason Collins.
An internal option could from overseas in Jerome Jordan, whom the Knicks acquired during the 2010 draft. Jordan spent last season in Serbia, playing for KK Hemofarm and has been playing well early on this season in Europe. The Knicks front office is hoping Jordan comes over to play and impresses right away. Another in-house possibility is 2011 second-round pick Josh Harrellson. “Jorts,” as he was affectionately referred to during his playing days at Kentucky, played well in the NCAA’s last season, but he is obviously a long-shot to contribute this season.
Still, there is one final avenue the Knicks could explore in their search for a starting center. If they don’t have the requisite cap space to sign a center, New York may be forced to check out the trade market. Unfortunately for the Knicks, they don’t have many assets that other teams would clamor for in trade discussions. Still, if New York finds the right partner, there are some feasible options. One team NY may want to call is the Clippers. Chris Kaman is the highest-paid player on the L.A. roster (a franchise with a notoriously stingy owner). Assuming the Clippers ink DeAndre Jordan to a long-term deal, they may look to part ways with the oft-injured Kaman. Kaman’s contract fits the Knicks’ plans perfectly, as he has just one season ($12.2 million) left on his current pact. Finding a package that would interest the Clipper is difficult, but would L.A. be interested in an offer of: Billups, Turiaf, and cash for Kaman and Randy Foye?
Yet, after searching through NBA rosters, I think a great fit for the Knicks may be rotting away on the bench in Phoenix. As I have posited many times since last year, I believe Mr. Robin Lopez may be prime for the plucking. Not only would Lopez be a good fit in New York alongside Amar’e, he could likely be obtained without giving up a much.
During Stoudemire’s last season in Phoenix, Lopez and Amar’e developed a solid chemistry and worked well together. Lopez is not a guy you will run plays for but he is a big body that is content doing the dirty work. He’s not a great athlete, but he will bang, board, and hustle. Lopez would be a great fit alongside Melo and Stoudemire on an NY front line. Better yet, it shouldn’t be too difficult to pry him from Phoenix.
The Suns owe starting center Marcin Gortat $21.8 million over the next three seasons. Channing Frye is set to earn $18 million through 2014, with a player option worth $6.8 million for the 2014-2015 season. That is nearly $40 million dollars worth of center over the next three years. They also owe Hakim Warrick nearly $14 million thru 2014; Josh Childress has $27 million coming his way; and don’t forget about the $21.3 million owed to Jared Dudley.
With Suns’ owner Robert Sarver’s financial difficulties, it is not inconceivable to assume Phoenix may be looking to lighten future salary commitments – especially commitments to players that don’t regularly contribute.
Lopez was buried on Phoenix’s bench last season. In the 27 post-All-Star break games he played in, Lopez averaged just 4.6 points and 2.4 boards in 11 minutes of action.
Robin experienced his best success as pro when he was teamed up alongside Amar’e. Lopez started 31 games at center (with Stoudemire as his PF) in 2009-2010. In those 31 contests, Lopez averaged 11.3 points and 6.2 boards, while shooting 59.7% from the floor and over 74% from the free-throw line.
Lopez will make (pro-rated) $2.9 million next season, and his qualifying offer in 2012-2013 will be $4 million. Certainly seems worth a gamble from the Knicks perspective. If New York could play Lopez 25+ minutes a night, and then bring Turiaf off the pine for some added defense and energy, it might be a recipe for success.
As far as what the Knicks could offer Phoenix, the key part to any deal might be the cash James Dolan could send to Sarver (assuming that is still allowed under the new CBA). How about Bill Walker (Phoenix will likely be losing starting SG Vince Carter) and cash to the Suns in exchange for Lopez? It might make sense for both teams.
Whichever road the Knicks take, it needs to end with a legit starting center on the roster before the season starts on Christmas Day…
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