Six Free Agents for the New York Knicks
“I’m gonna pop some tags, but I only got twenty dollars in my pocket… I’m hunting, I’m hunting, looking for a come up…”
- lyrics from the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis song “Thrift Shop”
When discussing the New York Knicks’ options in free agency this summer, it is important to first highlight their restrictive limitations.
Even after the surprising retirement of Jason Kidd wiped more than $3 million in annual salary off their books, the Knicks still have nearly $70 million in guaranteed salary committed to six players next season. The majority of that sum is allotted to Amar’e Stoudemire ($21.6 million), Carmelo Anthony ($22.4 MM), and Tyson Chandler ($14.1). In addition three other veterans (Raymond Felton, Steve Novak, and Marcus Camby) are all set to earn between $3.6 and 4.4 million next season.
As a result, the Knicks begin the summer well over the salary cap – before they even consider re-signing any of the pending free agents currently on their roster. Assuming they re-sign J.R. Smith, who likely played his way back into the Knicks price range courtesy of a disastrous postseason, the Knicks will likely also exceed the “tax apron,” which will further inhibit Knicks GM Glen Grunwald’s ability to get aggressive in free agency. Essentially, the only means by which Grunwald can sign any free-agent to more than a minimum-level contract is via the tax-payers mid-level exception (the so called “mini-MLE” will likely land around $3.8 million).
Consequently, the Knicks won’t be able to splurge on $50 Gucci t-shirts this offseason. Grunwald will be forced to shop at the NBA’s version of a thrift shop and sort through the “clearance rack,” looking for discarded/flawed players that those teams with cap space have already passed over. “One man’s trash is another man’s come up…”
The first question Grunwald will have to address is how badly he wants to bring back his own free agents – Pablo Prigioni, Chris Copeland, and Kenyon Martin. The Knicks do have the option of using all or any portion of the mid-level to re-sign these valuable contributors if they are unwilling to sign for the minimum.
Smith is in a different boat altogether. Although the Knicks are over the cap, they do possess early Bird rights on Smith. This means that New York can offer Smith a contract starting at 175 percent of his previous salary or 104.5 percent of the previous season’s average salary, whichever is greater. The NBA won’t release full financials until next month, so we don’t have the exact figures, but using safe parameters, the Knicks will likely be able to offer Smith a contract starting at approximately $5.1 million, with an allowable 7.5 percent increase each year of the deal.
Due to a confluence of factors – including the Knicks ability to re-sign Smith at around $5 million without it impacting their ability to bring in other free-agents, and Smith’s nightmarish postseason flame-out, which likely scared off many suitors – it is probably safe to assume he returns to the Big Apple next season. (Just how historically awful was J.R. Smith’s 2013 postseason? Well, he became just the second player in the last 50 years to appear in at least 10 playoff games and average over 30 minutes per game, yet shoot below 34% from the floor… He’s also just the third player in league history to attempt at least 65 three-pointers during one postseason and shoot below 27.5% from behind the arc and below 73% from the free-throw stripe…) So, when attempting to project which direction the Knicks may head in this summer, let’s begin under the assumption that they will bring Smith back.
Grunwald will be forced to flesh out the rest of the roster by pairing aging vets or unproven youngsters alongside a core that established itself as a contender last season. Grunwald and company have had considerable success unearthing diamonds (Steve Novak and Jeremy Lin claimed off waivers; bringing Copeland and Prigioni from obscurity overseas to the NBA stage, et al.). He will have to work his magic once again, because the Knicks simply won’t be able to compete for the players that can command more than $3 or $4 million a season on the open market.
So, which that as the backdrop, let’s discuss some names that may actually fit within New York’s threadbare budget:
Lamar Odom (Forward):
Just two summers ago, the Lakers trade of Odom to the Mavs sent shockwaves throughout the NBA. At the time, Odom was considered one of the more versatile and well-rounder players in the league. During the 2010-11 season, he was one of just six player to average at least 14 points, 8.5 rebounds and three assists per game (the other five were Al Horford, Pau Gasol, Josh Smith, David Lee, and Blake Griffin). Of those six, Odom was the only player to also knock down more than 50’s three-pointers that season, which meant he was the only player in the league to post those across-the-board numbers. As we know, Odom crashed and burned in Dallas, eventually being sent home and asked to stay away. Last summer, he signed with the Clippers and many in L.A. had high hopes he would revive his career with the Clips. It didn’t happen. Odom struggled mightily and was, more often than not, ineffective and incredibly inefficient. In fact, Odom became the first NBA player in over five years to average over 18 minutes a night yet manage to shoot below 40 percent from the floor, below 50 percent from the free-throw stripe and 20 percent from three-point territory. That is not something any player wants on his resume.
Assuming Odom decides to play again this season, he will likely be forced to accept the veteran’s minimum. And there has been flirtation in the past between Odom and the Knicks. Lamar grew up less than 15 miles from Madison Square Garden, in Jamaica, Queens. Still just 33 years old, Odom hasn’t missed a game due to injury since 2009, so durability hasn’t been an issue. The Knicks are in need of talent at an affordable price. Could Odom be looking for a fresh start on the East Coast, in his hometown? It might make some sense for both sides.
Will Bynum (Point Guard):
With Jason Kidd’s retirement, point guard suddenly becomes a position of need in New York, especially if they are unable to retain the services of Pablo Prigioni. Bynum is a dynamic offensive threat, and a proven quality backup guard. Coming off his best season as a pro, Bynum will draw plenty of interest from around of the league. During the 2012-13 campaign, Bynum’s Per-36 minute averages were certainly impressive: 18.8 points and 6.8 assists per 36 minutes. He also shot a career-high 46.9 percent from the floor and over 80 percent from the free-throw stripe. The Knicks were already attached to Bynum earlier this month – courtesy of Vincent Ellis of the Detroit Free Press
DeJuan Blair (Power Forward)
Blair slipped into the second round of the 2009 draft due to primarily to injury concerns (he no longer has an ACL in either knee), but the Spurs looked like geniuses early on, when Blair emerged as one of the top players in his draft class back in 2009-10. However, he was unable to sustain that production and saw his numbers progressively decline. He lost his spot in rotation completely during the 2012-13 regular season, and was relegated to bystander-status during the Spurs postseason run.
However, Blair has proven he can bang and board, which fits one of the Knicks needs. The Knicks were one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA last season – only four teams averaged fewer boards per game. Over his four year career, Blair averaged 11.1 rebounds per 36-minutes.
Jared Jefferies (Power Forward):
Jefferies was a favorite of the Knicks’ coaching staff during previous tenure in New York. He was surprisingly effective as a versatile defender who can guard multiple positions and impact the game in a positive way without the team ever running a play for him. Injuries eventually limited his availability and production, but contributed when he was on the floor. In fact, in 2011-12, the Knicks were a perfect 10-0 in games in which Jeffries played at least 26 minutes.
Jefferies also seemed to love playing and living in the Big Apple, developing lasting relationships within the organization. He seems like a solid candidate to secure of the veteran’s minimum contracts the Knicks will hand out this summer.
Sebastian Telfair (Point Guard):
Born and bred in Brooklyn, word is Telfair would love to return to his NYC roots next season. With the Nets now in Brooklyn, that gives him two options.
Telfair would certainly make sense for the Knicks if they lose Pablo Prigioni. While his numbers won’t blow you away, Telfair is an experienced and competent back-up PG. He can run the pick-and-roll well, and has improved as a defender. He also plays with heart and energy, which is something Coach Woodson covets.
Elton Brand (Power Forward):
If Grunwald and Woodson continue last year’s trend of importing grizzled, accomplished veterans, then Brand would seem to be a fit.
Brand’s playing time and production have been on a steady decline in recent years. He is now 34 years of age, but still shows flashes of the form that made him an all-star in his prime. Last season in Dallas, he played a shade over 21 minutes a night and chipped in 7.2 ppg while grabbing six boards per contest. He would supply important depth and production along the frontline, especially if Kenyon Martin doesn’t come back. Brand is also still effective as an offensive weapon on the low block. It’s been many years since the Knicks had a big who could post-up and call for the ball down low.
Additional, assorted guards that could be considered :
Randy Foye, Daniel “Boobie” Gibson, Devin Harris, Earl Watson, Shaun Livingston, A.J. Price, Jamal Tinsley
Matt Barnes, Antwan Jamison, Al-Farouq Aminu, Earl Clark, Luke Walton, Mike Dunleavy, Wesley Johnson, Corey Brewer, Sam Young, Brandan Wright
Jermaine O’Neal, Greg Oden, Chris Wilcox, Johan Petro, DeSagana Diop, Jason Collins, Nazr Mohammed, Ronny Turiaf