The Pros and Cons of Knicks Decision to Add Chandler
The Knicks’ biggest need this offseason was adding a legit starting center, an intimidating big man that would board, grindand aggressively defend the paint. Well, it appears the Knicks have found their man.
To the surprise of mostly everyone, word began to spread yesterday afternoon that the Knicks were close to signing free-agent center Tyson Chandler. As of midday Friday, it appears it’s a done deal… (New York Times is now reporting Chandler is on his way to New York to sign the contract).
The Knicks had never been considered contenders for Chandler, one of the top free agents on the open market, as New York had nowhere near the cap space necessary to match what other teams other would surely throw his way during this truncated free agent frenzy. However, it appears the Knicks were willing to get unexpectedly creative in order to clear the cap space necessary to bring in the center they desired. Multiple reports indicate the Knicks are attempting to clear cap space via various means, which may including trading Ronny Turiaf along with Chauncey Billups, or simply “amnestying” Billups to clear his salary off the books.
It sounds like the Knicks will ink Chandler to a $58 million, four-year deal. That’s an undeniably hefty payday and serious financial commitment to a 29-year-old that has battled injury issues over the last few years.
If this deal/signing does go through as expected (although, in today’s NBA, we have learned no deal is done until it is officially announced) the question to ask is this: The Knicks addressed their biggest need and vastly improved their frontcourt, but did they overpay to do so?
There are pros and cons to this deal from a Knicks perspective. I’ll tackle each point of view separately. First, I’ll highlight reasons why it could be argued that this deal was a shrewd move by the Knicks. Then, I’ll play devil’s advocate and point out why this decision could come back and bite the Knicks in the long run.
First and foremost, as stated earlier, the Knicks desperately needed to add size, and muscle, and heart, and defense down low. In Chandler, they get all of that in spades. His attitude and defensive determination are something the Knicks have been sorely lacking for quote some time. And paired alongside Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire in the starting lineup, the Knicks roll out arguably the most imposing and impressive frontline in the entire league…
Besides the many on-court advantages of adding Chandler, another ancillary benefit is that it would reduce the off-court distractions and melodrama that have hung over the franchise for a long time. In the years leading up to the summer of 2010, LeBron James’ pending free-agency got far more attention than the Knicks product on the floor. And last year, even after signing Amar’e Stoudemire, the spectre of Carmelo Anthony was a dominant storyline nearly every day. The possibility of adding Chris Paul promised to have a similar, draining effect. With Chandler on board and that money tied up, the Knicks simply won’t have the flexibility to be legitimate trade partners or players in free agency for years to come. Of course, there will still be outlandish speculation and rumors attached to the Knicks, but adding Chandler should greatly reduce the noisy, distracting chatter.
On a related note, the Knicks had been in a holding pattern for a while. They were essentially star-gazing for the better part of four years. That should end now. The Knicks Big 3 is big enough, strong enough, and talented enough to thrust New York into legit-contender status. (Just how competitive they will be with the league’s elite will depend on how they flesh out their roster. To be determined…)
Nonetheless, the waiting game is over. The nucleus is in place, the time is now.
Yes, $14.5 million per season is an awful hefty price to pay for Tyson Chandler, but in a world bereft of big men, you have to overpay for centers. This is a well-established fact. Legit starting centers, much like left-handed starting pitchers, simply don’t become available all that often, either by trade or free agency. So if you have the opportunity to procure a pivot, you do what it takes.
And while there are a couple of offensively gifted big men available (Nene, for instance) Chandler provides exactly what the Knicks were shopping for. New York obviously didn’t need to add another scorer; they already have that end of the court covered. They needed to add a bruiser that would board and protect the tin; a defensive-minded center willing to set screens and do the dirty work. That is Tyson Chandler. A rare big who plays with a contagious passion and aggression. Ask those close to the Mavericks and they endlessly heap praise on Chandler for the impact he had on the Mavs both on and off the floor. He helped change the culture in Dallas. He challenged everybody on that roster and demanded toughness. The results speak fro themselves.
Knicks fans embrace that type of player; he’ll be an immediate crowd favorite at MSG.
In addition, it could be argued that the $58 million the Knicks are paying Chandler will help protect the $100 million investment they made last summer in Amar’e Stoudemire.
As I have often discussed, 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. Not only is it imperative that Mike D’Antoni 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 needs to spend less time at the “5” and more time at his natural power forward spot.
By bringing in Chandler, Amar’e can comfortably slide over to PF and let Chandler guard bruising bangers in the paint. This will pay immediate dividends and potentially far greater returns a few years down the line.
With Chandler on board, while the rest of the Knicks roster still needs to be fleshed out, the terrific upside in New York is undeniable.
Looking at the flip side of the coin, there are certainly a number of reasons why Knicks fans could be concerned as well. The first issue (before even discussing losing out on the possibility to add Chris Paul) is the internal roster sacrifices the Knicks would have to make in order to sign Chandler. The biggest problem is losing Chauncey Billups. Billups, a proven winner and a former NBA Finals MVP, is the only pure point guard on the squad. An aging veteran, Billups showed signs and wear-and-tear down the stretch last season, but he is by no means washed up. Chauncey averaged 17.5 points and 5.5 assists during his short stint inNew York last season. Back in Denver in 2009-2010, he averaged 19.6 ppg, 5.6 assists, and 1.1 steals. In addition, he is a respected locker room leader and a coach on the floor. Losing Billups hurts, there’s no two ways around that fact.
Toney Douglas is a decent defender and an underrated scorer (he led the NBA in three-point makes over the second half of last season), but he is more of a combo guard than a true point. Iman Shumpert, whom the Knicks selected in the first round of the 2011 NBA draft, is also more of a shooting guard who can occasionally handle the ball.
A Mike D’Antoni offense without a reliable captain steering the ship has to be a concern for the Knicks and their head coach. This was made painfully obvious during the playoffs last season. With Billups hobbled, New York had nobody to facilitate the offense, which often grinded to a halt in half-court sets. Carmelo Anthony ended up leading the Knicks in assists during the first-round series with Boston– certainly not the ideal scenario for New York. The hope is that New York will be able to obtain a free-agent point guard at the veteran’s minimum. (Jamal Tinsley was considered a potential target, but he purportedly agreed to terms with the Utah Jazz.) Baron Davis is a name that has been floated after reports surfaced the Cavs may “amnesty” him. However, it would be surprising if Davis (if he is in fact cut) would pass through the waiver process. This remains a long shot.
While the Knicks frontline would be second to none, their backcourt would be second to most. The Knicks were attempting to bring in Grant Hill, but New York would lose the ability to offer their mid-level once the Chandler deal was completed. Hill re-upped with the Suns on a one-year, $6.5 million contract Friday morning. Right now, the Knicks starting back court on Christmas’s opening day matchup with the Celtics would likely be Landry Fields and Douglas. Fields struggled mightily late last season, and was even benched during the playoffs.
In years past, before a litany of rule changes, having dominant big men was absolutely vital to postseason success. However, recently the NBA has implemented changes that favor guards and other smaller, quicker players that can get into the paint and draw fouls. Sacrificing backcourt strength to improve the frontcourt could be considered a risky proposition, in and of itself.
Another major issue is obviously the money the Knicks will have tied up in Chandler long-term. Four years at $58 million works out to $14.5 million per season. That is an awful lot of money committed to a player that is inching toward 30 and has missed a total of 76 games over the last three seasons. Back in February of 2009, the Thunder had agreed to trade Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox to the Hornets for Chandler, but the trade was rescinded after Tyson failed his physical.
Chandler, in a contract year, was able to piece together arguably the best year of his career in Dallas last season, playing 74 games and averaging a near double-double (10.1 points and 9.4 boards). Can he hold up going forward? The Knicks are betting heavily that he will.
Consider this: In the history of the NBA, has there ever been a 29-year-old player – who had never made a single All-Star team – signed to a contract as high as $58 million?
Obviously a player’s value can’t be measured by All-Star appearances alone, but the fact remains that Chandler has never been viewed as a true max-money or franchise-caliber center. Chandler is hitting the free-agent market at the perfect time. There are very few quality free agents on the market and Chandler is fresh off helping lead the Mavericks to a championship. Had he hit free agency last summer, after a disappointing, injury-filled season in Charlotte, the market would have been far less favorable.
If Chandler is at $14.5 million per year, the Knicks starting frontcourt will make over $51 million next season. That is roughly 88% of the $58 million cap. The combo of Chandler, Stoudemire and Anthony would be earning more than LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh down in Miami.
As the salaries of Amar’e and Anthony escalate over the next four seasons, the frontcourt’s cap figure will only increase. In fact, by the 2014-2015 season, that number balloons to $61.5 million (Amar’e and Melo will each make over $23 million in the final year of their deals.)
Another possible unfortunate byproduct from adding Chandler is potentially losing the amnesty clause, if, in fact, Billups needs to be cut in order to clear cap space forChandler. Given Amar’e knee issues and a debilitating back injury which sidelined him in the playoffs last April, many analysts assumed the Knicks would keep the amnesty provision in their back pocket in case they needed to get out from under the weight of a catastrophic injury to Stoudemire.
So, there you have it – two divergent ways to look at the same signing.
At the end of the day, it’s a gamble by the Knicks. But at some point they were going to have to roll the dice. No trade or free-agent signing would have guaranteed success. Ultimately, this short-term success of this signing will be determined by how the Knicks are able to address their hole at point guard. With a little luck, the Knicks could be contenders for the crown. Thinking long-term, the Knicks have to hope Chandler can stay healthy.