The NBA free agency period is looming on July 1st and with one trade it seems as if the Chicago Bulls have placed themselves in the driver’s seat to become winners of the Lebron James and second max player to be named sweepstakes. On draft night the Bulls dealt Kirk Hinrich and the seventeenth pick of the draft to the Washington Wizards in order to clear around ten million dollars of cap space that would push them to thirty million dollars for free agents. This move may prove to be the death knell for the Knicks hopes of landing James and rumors are starting to swirl that if they lose out on Lebron and Bosh they may settle for Joe Johnson and Amare Stoudamire. This would be further disastrous for a franchise that has spent years getting rid of salary in order to make a run at the top tier of free agents this year to end up with two guys who played together on the Phoenix Suns and by all accounts aren’t deserving of max contracts.
What then should the New York Knicks do if they miss out on James, Bosh, Wade or Nowitzski who have no reason to sign to a team that won’t be a contender? It wouldn’t be very smart to let panic set in and overpay for Johnson and Amare but knowing the Knicks’ recent history I wouldn’t put it past management to pull the trigger on those deals. Perhaps the best option for the team at that point would be to acknowledge that they are not going to be contenders next season and build a sound team that has contracts flexible for trades and will be competitive in the Eastern Conference.
The first act should of course be devoted to going after Lebron James and whoever else but realistically the Knicks need to look at re-signing David Lee. Lee isn’t going to cost a max contract and will put up similar production as Amare Stoudamire on offense and is a better rebounder/defender than the Suns’ big man. Lee is a proven 20 and 10 guy to play at the power forward spot and won’t eat up all the cap space.
Joe Johnson should be considered for the Knicks’ opening at shooting guard but only if you can get him at a good price. Johnson can flat out score but his lackluster performance with the Hawks in the postseason proved that he isn’t a top dollar player. If they can get him to New York and re-sign David Lee at a good price there should be enough cap space to sign another starter. Don’t forget that Danilo Gallinari is only 21 years old and averaged 15 points per game for the Knicks last season. This would give the Knicks this lineup at three positions:
SG: Joe Johnson
SF: Danilo Gallinari
PF: David Lee
That’s a decent core of players that should get the Knicks into the playoffs which needs to be their focus because barring some miracle they won’t be making a title run. Assuming they keep David Lee and Joe Johnson decides to go elsewhere the Knicks will still have an opportunity to build a respectable team. Here are a list of potential players that they should make a play on if they don’t land Lebron/Wade/Bosh and the other players are demanding too big of a salary:
John Salmons, SG: Salmons is looking for a longer deal since he opted out of his last year with the Milwaukee Bucks to test the free agent market. He was due to make approximately 6 million dollars this upcoming season and after he was traded to the Bucks he averaged 19 points per game for them. On the negative side he isn’t a star player and he’s 30 years old but for the right price he can be a good starter for the Knicks and allow them to further pursue other players.
Kyle Korver, SG: Another option to fill a roster spot. He really is suited best as a role player off of the bench but if every option falls through and they need someone to step into the shooting guard spot Korver can be had for cheap. He is a deadly shooter from long range and paired with Gallinari defenses would have to respect the three point line, unfortunately he would also be a defensive liability as a starter.
Raymond Felton, PG: Chris Duhon is a free agent for the Knicks this season so this is a chance for them to slightly upgrade at the point. While Felton isn’t an elite player he is more athletic and a better scorer than Duhon and made slightly less than Duhon last season. Because of his poor defensive performance against Jameer Nelson his price may have fallen or stagnated but he is certainly capable of starting on a nightly basis.
Brendan Haywood, C: Haywood is a solid veteran center who averaged 9 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game last season for Dallas. Haywood would be better than Eddy Curry and provide for a nice rebounding tandem with David Lee. He’s not much of a scoring option but he certainly is a nice big man to have.
Luke Ridnour, PG
Steve Blake, PG
So if the Knicks went the sans-superstar route their starting five could possibly look like this:
PG Raymond Felton
SG John Salmons
SF Danilo Gallinari
PF David Lee
C Brendan Haywood
Toney Douglas and Wilson Chandler could come off the bench along with their two rookies, Eddy Curry, and whoever else they can pick up. Tracy McGrady could be re-signed for the veterans minimum and come off the bench, I know he’s a shell of his former self but if he could provide a spark for a few minutes a night it would be worth it for dirt cheap. This team wouldn’t win an NBA championship but would certainly get to the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference and also not saddle the team with huge contracts making it easier to move pieces and improve the team. It might even be better than whatever you could muster up if they would sign Joe Johnson and Amare Stoudamire and wouldn’t put them in a terrible position for years to come.
Maybe things will work out for the Knicks and they somehow end up with Lebron and Bosh. Or land Bosh to go along with Joe Johnson. But if things don’t work out for them with the best available perhaps they should take a look at some of the bargain players to build a decent team instead of overpaying for the Boozer’s and Stoudamire’s of the league. There are a lot of teams in the hunt for the best free agents and somebody is bound to lose but how will those left out in the cold handle it?