Now that the Knicks have Carmelo Anthony back in the fold for what’s reportedly a five-year, $124 million deal, the next logical step is for them to start making moves around the margins of their roster. Don’t expect the usual out-of-nowhere Knicks signing of a foreign veteran, D-League lifer or American exile balling in China, however, because they appear to be finished building their roster (or close to it.)
There’s not a whole lot for them to do because they have a roster that’s more or less full and are now officially without anything other than the minimum salary to sign free agents. Yesterday, Phil Jackson talked about how the Knicks needed to add size and today they spent their $3.3 million cap exception on Jason Smith, a center who averaged 9.7 points and 5.8 rebounds in 31 games for the Pelicans last season. Smith’s a legit seven-footer with decent range who has struggled with injuries throughout his career. Smith’s deal follows last week’s signing of lanky, lumbering center Cole Aldrich to a guaranteed contract, likely for the minimum.
Aldrich is more of a rangy rim protector than Smith but they do share a certain similarity (and not just that most people don’t know who the hell they are.) I’m not going to make a Luc Longley/Bill Wennington/Will Perdue joke but after signing two middling white centers in a single week it does feel like Phil Jackson is trolling us a bit. But there’s more to it than that.
Jackson’s teams have always had traditional size (and then some). The big white guys of the Bulls (and Bison Dele) and the Shaq/Medvedenko (I don’t know, Shaq was big enough for two guys) and Bynum/Gasol Lakers showed how much easier the game can be when the opposition has to deal with real big men in the middle (and not power forwards dressed up as centers.) Looks like Phil’s trying to recreate that on the cheap for next season. It’s counter to what a lot of the league has done in recent years, but that can have its advantages. It’ll be interesting to watch next season.
The Smith and Aldrich signings, which took place as more glamorous (but not great) role players like Kris Humphries signed elsewhere, pretty much tap the Knicks out for next season. Humphries is exactly the kind of power forward the Knicks have been trying to use as a backup center for the last few seasons; the days of trying to guard Joakim Noah with a one-legged Kenyon Martin appear to be over (I know the Knicks had Tyson Chandler on the team last season but between injuries, declining ability and lack of effort, he wasn’t much of a presence.)
NBA teams can carry fifteen players on their roster during the season, with twelve or thirteen dressing. After signing Smith and Aldrich the Knicks are right up against that limit. So let’s take an early look at our 2014-15 Knickerbockers:
Aldrich, Bargnani, Dalembert, Stoudemire, Smith and Jeremy Tyler
- All these guys are going to be on the Knicks next season. Tyler’s still young and has a great deal of potential (his jumper and passing from the high post have looked quite nice in the summer league and he made some plays last season.) Aldrich and Smith just signed guaranteed contracts. Bargnani and Stoudemire, well, you know. Jackson said yesterday he sees Bargnani and Stoudemire as centers. That’s six big men right there, with Stoudemire, Bargnani and Tyler capable of playing either the four or the five (some more embarassingly than others.)
Carmelo Anthony, Cleanthony Early
- The Knicks have one Carmelo Anthony. He’s mowed down everyone in his path at power forward the last few years and he’ll probably continue to do so this season. He’s kind of a wing, kind of a post player. He’s going to be fantastic in the triangle next season.
- Early very well may prove to be the steal of the draft, a first round talent taken in the second round. He reminds me a little bit of Melo - he’s got some inside out game and can bully wings and out-quick bigs. He also did this earlier in the week.
Tim Hardaway, Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Wayne Ellington
- This is where things get crowded. The word is Antetokounmpo, a rabid defender and big bro to the biggest smoothie lover in the league, is going to get stashed over in Greece this season, which leaves the Knicks with five wing players, four if you assume Ellington, brought over as filler in the Chandler/Felton diaspora isn’t going to make the team (which he probably won’t.) The most interesting question going into camp for the Knicks is which of these guys is going to start. Shump seems like a lock to start at shooting guard but there hasn’t been any word on whether the new administration considers JR a sixth man or whether they’re willing to let him be the team’s starting small forward. If it isn’t Smith it could be Hardaway, who very well might have been the worst defender on the Knicks last season. I’m very much looking forward to a Knick roster that starts Jose Calderon, Tim Hardaway and Carmelo Anthony with Shump trying to hold the league’s best perimeter players at bay and the ghost of Samuel Dalembert attempting to protect the rim behind them.
Jose Calderon, Pablo Prigioni, Shane Larkin
- You don’t need to be Daryl Morey to figure out that Raymond Felton was just awful last season. Calderon, a fantastic three-point shooter, ballhandler and offense-runner, is everything Felton is not (other than defensively, where he’s pretty similar although since he isn’t fat he isn’t quite so easy to screen.) The transition from Felton to Calderon is a huge upgrade for the Knicks. Prigioni’s still Prigioni (a capable backup/backcourt mate for fifteen minutes a game). And Larkin, a first round pick two years ago who almost literally got off on the wrong foot in Dallas last season (he broke his ankle before the summer league) may grow into a useful player over the course of the season. Larkin played in the pick-and-roll in college and had a lot of success with it but he’ll have some adjusting to do in the triangle. His shooting and ballhandling ability should give him a chance to do so.
That’s fourteen players who seem sure to make the roster, plus Antetokounmpo and Ellington and the rest of the guys on the summer league roster that haven’t come up yet (Shannon Brown, who has a long history with Fisher and Jackson, is one player that might find his way to the last seat on the bench.)
Unless Big Chief Triangle has some kind of two-for-one swap planned, these are likely to be your 2014-2015 New York Knicks. Here we go.