Amidst a wild offseason, it seems like the Knicks have been borderline forgettable. But have they? They narrowly missed on Steve Nash, signed two of the oldest players in the league to multi-year deals (Camby, Kidd), brought in a 35 year-old rookie point guard (Pablo Prigioni), brought in one of the most dynamic dunkers in the world (James “Flight” White) and re-signed the Odd Couple (Novak and Smith). Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields are up in the air but it seems like the team is on the verge of making the right decisions with respect to both (matching Lin’s offer from Houston and letting Fields walk). And they did it all with basically no cap room.
In every instance the Knicks made the right decision (assuming Lin stays and Fields goes).
What more can you ask for?
Let’s start with missing out on Nash. Even though the decision to go to Los Angeles was made by Nash, trading Iman Shumpert in a deal for Canada’s favorite male lesbian would have been a dubious decision. Don’t let Shump’s torn ACL cloud the picture: he’s an asset. Not the trade chip kind of asset but the kind of asset who plays on a championship team. Assuming he recovers from his injury and develops an average three-point stroke, Shumpert is a must-have piece in a conference where big guards are everywhere (like across the river where the Nets have a new toy and down south in Miami). Not only that, but getting Nash would have cost all the little pieces they gave up to bring in Camby. Is the sum of Kidd, Camby and Shumpert greater than that of Nash alone? Time will tell but I think it may be.
Kidd and Camby were savvy moves. Not only are they both still capable of playing significant minutes at positions where the Knicks need help (28 mpg last season for Kidd, 24 for Camby), they also address one of the team’s biggest needs. One of the biggest problems the Knicks have had the last two seasons is a lack of balance, as much off the court as on. The fans contribute to it and the media contributes to it and the team hasn’t had the personality to counteract it. The NBA season isn’t the longest in sports but it’s still a grind. Successful teams keep the highs from getting too high and the lows from getting too low. Heady, respected vets like Kidd and Camby will bring calm to the locker room. That’s something the Knicks have tried before. But Roger Mason and Anthony Carter are one thing, Kidd and Camby are another. As for the load they gave up for Camby, that was mostly detritus. There’s a reason Harrellson and Jordan are going to get cut by Houston in an effort to create extra room to bring in Dwight Howard. Letting Toney Douglas try and resurrect his game elsewhere was the humane thing to do. The biggest pieces they gave up were the cash and the two second round picks. Well worth it for a guy who had the highest rebound rate in the league last season and will allow Tyson Chandler to get some rest without sacrificing much on defense. And I didn’t even get to the part where he’s one of the last “living” links to our beloved ’90s Knicks (yes, Kurt Thomas is still around). As for Kidd, sure a three year deal may be too long but if you’re willing to invest $25 million in Jeremy Lin you should spare no expense to develop him. There is no better mentor than Kidd, especially considering Kidd is capable of backing Lin up but not eating up all his minutes (which Nash would have).
Prigioni and White are flyers, interesting and fun new toys who make next to no money and might not be around for long. They’re the kind of guys who make watching blowouts fun (White especially). Prigioni, a 35 year-old Argentine, will be playing in the Olympics later this month. I’m looking forward to watching him there. I’m not counting on much contribution from either but if we learned anything from Linsanity it’s that you never know.
Now let’s get to the guys that are (and aren’t) coming back. J.R. Smith isn’t the perfect player but he is an absolute bargain at $2.8 million. Novak had a disappointing post season and might be a bit overpaid at $15 million over four but he’s an excellent regular season player and his ability to spread adds an important dimension to the Knicks offense. Smith and Novak are specialists. Smith is the microwave, Novak is the long range sniper. About $3 million a year is a perfectly reasonable amount for each.
Last but not least are Lin and Landry, headed in opposite directions via restricted free agency. With Fields I feel very strongly he needs to go. First there’s the contract he’s been offered by the Raptors; three years and twenty million is just outrageous for a player of his ability. He shot just over 25% from three last season and you simply don’t want a starting shooting guard whose top attribute is rebounding. His athletic ability just isn’t enough for him to get by as a garbageman on offense and that’s what his skill set dictates. He seems like a great guy and will no doubt have a future in the league as a guy who never misses a flight, pushes his teammates hard in practice and makes the league minimum. I don’t hate. But at almost seven million a year? Nice knowing you.
Re-signing Lin is an absolute no brainer and I’m not even a big believer in his ability. I’ve said it before and the changed terms of the deal Houston is offering don’t alter the calculus: $5 million a year for the first two years is absolutely fine. Maybe it’s a little much for a guy who’s only started 25 games in his career but even the most ardent Lin hater has to admit he showed enough potential to make it worthwhile. Yes, $15 million in year three is absurd. But if Lin isn’t remotely worth it come the 2014-15 season that contract becomes an expiring one and expiring contracts have tremendous value as trade chips. Not just that but the deal expires in the same offseason as Stoudemire, Chandler and Anthony’s. Those four will be the core of the team from now until at least 2014-15. And then the Knicks can start over if that’s what they need to do. It’s also important to remember that it isn’t Lin or someone else for the same amount. Because Lin has Bird rights it’s Lin or someone else for the minimum. And when you put it like that, based on what we saw over the course of 25 games last season, it’s Lin.
The Knicks came into this offseason over the salary cap. They held on to every worthwhile piece they had from last season and managed to add two important pieces. Maybe last season was a disappointment. But did we ever really see the team at full strength? Did we ever see Amar’e look right? Did we ever see Lin and Melo for a sustained period, long enough for them to get comfortable? Did J.R. ever get settled? Did we have a backup center? I could go on, but I won’t.
The only thing we won’t see, at least at the start of the season, is Iman Shumpert. Although J.R. Smith is capable of starting at shooting guard and Lin can play there in spots, neither is ideal. Smith prefers to come off the bench and it’s important that Woodson be able to sit him down when he gets carried away. I don’t want Lin’s role to get confused, with Amar’e and Melo he needs to be a distributor first. Since they are over the cap, there isn’t a lot out there that the Knicks can afford (all they are permited to spend is the veteran minimum). But there are a few options.
I’ve heard a lot of names. The (at this point) top flight guys are all too expensive (Mayo, Foye). Some are underwhelming (Shannon Brown, CJ Miles). Delonte West is the one name that really stands out to me. He’s an excellent shooter (46% last season) and a strong defender. He hasn’t been in trouble much lately (I know, I know). He can play both guard positions, which will be key if Kidd or Lin get hurt (both quite possible) and Prigioni just isn’t good (also possible). Simply put, Delonte West is a player, more than any of the other realistic options. The Knicks aren’t quite contenders but they’re at a point where they may as well go all in. West is by far the most talented player available. And he made $1.1 million last season so he’s it isn’t like the minimum is beneath him (it’s $1.4). And if West and Smith end up on the same team, it would behoove you to stay out of the club when the Knicks’ off guards arrive.
The rumor right now is that Ronnie Brewer is the guy. He defends as well as West, is an excellent finisher and is less injury prone but he also shoots a Fields-esque 24% from three over the course of his career. He’s a safer play and maybe I’m just gun shy from watching quality offensive possessions end with Fields put up a brick from the corner. But it just wouldn’t be an offseason if I didn’t say the Knicks should sign Delonte West.
The Knicks also need a backup four. It’s likely to be Jared Jeffries, who continues his move down the bench. You know how I feel: don’t ask him to do too much and he’ll do a lot. I’ll be happy to have him back. But to the extent they want to look elsewhere (and want to stick it to the Nets a bit), Kenyon Martin would be the guy to bring in.
Yes, I just advocated signing Delonte West and Kenyon Martin in the same post. Sorry Dad.
That’s all I got folks. For the most part, you’re looking at the 2012-2013 Knicks. They’re a good team. Not as good as Miami but right there with the Nets, Pacers and Celtics. They may be better than all three. That will depend on what happens on the court and in the locker room. But as far as the offseason, Glen Grunwald and the front office did their part. The Knicks look like a much better team than they were last season. I can’t wait.