The New York Knicks season came crashing to a halt Saturday night with their game six loss in Indiana, ending the franchise’s most successful season in over a decade.
Every analyst looking at the Knicks has been using the same terms to describe them, built to win now. And in doing so, they’ve also been asking the question of where does New York go from here? It’s a tough question to answer that could test even the most skilled general manager, but it’s one they’ll have to address if the Knicks are going to take the next step and seriously compete for a title.
The Knicks have a decent group of stars in place and some role players in around them that will help them make the postseason again. Carmelo Anthony, who finished this season as the league’s leading scorer, is set to be a Knick for the next two seasons. So is Amar’e Stoudemire, but unfortunately his position with the team is much less certain than Anthony’s thanks to his extensive history with injuries.
Likewise, Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby and Raymond Felton are on the books for the same amount of time. Iman Shumpert will be playing at Madison Square Garden for at least next season, while Steve Novak is the only player with a definite contract extending into the 2015-16 season. The only other member of this year’s team likely to be a part of the Knicks next season is Pablo Prigioni, who the team can bring back for less than a million dollars.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Knicks numbers and how they have to manage it.
FREE AGENCY, THE DRAFT and TRADE OPTIONS
In order for the Knicks to address their problems, there may only be one way forward; a major trade. While this free agency period doesn’t have a lot of stars in it, there are plenty of players the Knicks could afford if they manage their options right, but any option has to include a trade at some point.
Unfortunately, the only contract the Knicks have that they could trade is Tyson Chandler’s. Carmelo Anthony is the center piece of the franchise and sadly, no one wants to go near Stoudemire’s contract due to the fact that it’s guaranteed and his ailments leave his team with anything but a guarantee that they’ll get their money’s worth.
What the Knicks could get in return for Chandler would need to be a significant big man in order to replace what they’d lose in Chandler, while simultaneously cutting some payroll to allow them to make a push for decent free agents. The only two names that come to mind as guys that could possibly provide this are JaVale McGee and DeAndre Jordan. How willing the Nuggets or Clippers are to part ways with them is questionable, but both those teams could be made better by bringing in a defensive anchor of Chandler’s class.
With either, the Knicks get in return a guy that offers more offensive production and can protect the rim as well for around $4 million less per season. McGee can continue to develop under Mike Woodson as he has under George Karl, but in a starting role. Jordan is essentially the same player as Chandler in terms of what he offers and would be an ideal pick and roll partner for Felton.
Clearing up $4 million would give the Knicks a bit more wiggle room in terms of salary, giving them the money they would need to re-sign Chris Copeland as well as going after another guard, center and power forward option. J.R. Smith is likely to be offered a significant amount of money by another team, so going after another two guard to back up Shumpert will be important, as will replacing the Kenyon Martin/Kurt Thomas/Rasheed Wallace slot backing up Stoudemire who will go back to starting next season.
The Knicks have the 24th pick in the draft, so landing a promising young talent that can come in and provide the team with big minutes is tricky to say the least. Tony Mitchell out of North Texas is projected to be their selection, a 6-foot-8 inch combo forward who can run the floor well and has incredible quickness and ability on both ends. He can defend guards, he has a decent jump shot and is a strong rebounder.
Let’s say for argument sake that they get there man. Mitchell makes the most sense as he adds depth at both power forward positions, a key factor since he is the only selection the Knicks have in the entire draft. All of their other needs will have to be addressed through free agency, so New York will need to find a shooting guard and a third option center that way.
Corey Maggette, Martell Webster and Randy Foye are all unrestricted free agents the Knicks could get for a reasonable price to back up and even challenge Shumpert for a starting role. If trading Chandler cleared just a bit more space, they could make a run at JJ Redick or Nick Young, but odds are the Knicks won’t have the money for either.
To add size the Knicks can take the easy route and bring back Kenyon Martin for another season and/or take a shot at the few unrestricted free agent centers that are out there this summer. The names they can afford are less than impressive: Nazr Mohammed, Jason Collins and Ryan Hollins or the return of Ronnie Turiaf rounds out the list. It stands to reason that the Knicks could afford to spend a couple million on a third option center if they can trade Chandler, but what is out there for them to sign doesn’t really warrant them investing a lot of cash.
Whatever the Knicks do from here is going to require some creativity. They have to start shopping Chandler to see what kind of deal they can get in return as soon as possible and whether or not they execute a deal that brings them back a respectable center and frees up cap space is going to determine the future of the franchise. The Knicks have $76 million committed to next year in salary. If either of the aforementioned trades for Chandler took place then it would bring it down to around $72 million, leaving $8 million worth of room before they get back to the $80 million they spent on salary this year.
On the other hand, maybe the Knicks do nothing. Maybe they sign a new batch of veterans and are built to win next season. Who knows? If basketball history in Gotham has shown us anything, it’s that you can’t predict what the Knicks will do. Not in a draft, not in a trade and certainly not in free agency.