New York Knicks: The 6 Biggest Questions Heading into the Offseason
After finishing a disappointing seventh in the Eastern Conference last season, the New York Knicks head into the 2012 offseason with some changes needing to be made to get the team to the next level.
Last offseason, Glen Grunwald and the Knicks really managed to bolster the team when it seemed all but impossible by drafting Iman Shumpert, trading for Tyson Chandler and adding Steve Novak and what turned out to be an up-and-coming point guard in Jeremy Lin.
As good as Grunwald's moves were, a lot of what was done last year was plain lucky. If other teams had known how good Novak and Lin would turn out to be, they surely would not have let them fall to the Knicks on such small salaries.
This time around, Grunwald and company will need to work even harder to upgrade the roster, but at the very least, this team is a lot nearer to completion than it was this time last year.
As a preview of the offseason to come, I'm going to take you through the biggest questions that need to be answered before we return to training camp in October.
Will Lin and Novak Keep Their Early Bird Rights?
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Though this question appeared to be answered on Friday when the early Bird rights arbitration hearing ruled in favour of the NBPA (and the Knicks), we need to be wary that the decision could still be overturned.
As it stands, the New York Knicks will have early Bird rights for both Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak, allowing them to be re-signed without having to worry about the salary cap.
Had the decision gone the other way as most expected, Lin would probably still be re-signed with the mid-level exception, but Novak would more than likely have to be set free.
The Knicks now have access to the mid-level exception as well as Lin and Novak's early Bird rights, but NBA commissioner David Stern is appealing the case, and as we know by now, he's notorious for getting his way eventually.
Will J.R. Smith Pick Up His Player Option?
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When J.R. Smith signed for the Knicks back in February, it was seen as a rental—with Smith simply biting at the chance to play in the NBA for half of a season after returning from China.
But since arriving in New York, Smith has emerged as a key part of the Knicks bench, providing a lot of offense in a lot of minutes.
Seemingly in preparation for this, the Knicks gave Smith a player option for the 2012-13 season—the only problem is that it's worth only $2.5 million, and a player like J.R. would earn a lot more out on the free-agent market.
With Iman Shumpert out injured—possibly until January—the Knicks will be very thin at shooting guard next season, especially since next-in-line Landry Fields is more of a small forward.
It's strange to hear this for a player with such a bad reputation as a ball-stopper, but the Knicks really need J.R. to return next season.
Despite the small salary, it appears there's still a chance that Smith could return, as he's from the tri-state area and really enjoys having his family and friends so close by.
Once you add his longtime relationship with Carmelo Anthony to the mix, the Knicks can pretty much offer him everything but money, so the question is more about what is most important to J.R. himself.
Update: Howard Beck of the New York Times is now reporting that Smith will decline his player option in order to re-sign with the Knicks long-term instead.
Can the Knicks Acquire Another Draft Pick?
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The 2012 NBA draft is shaping up to be a deep one, and the Knicks may be wise to try to move into the first round to pick up what could be a very useful prospect.
But with only six players under contract for next year, the majority of which are virtually unmovable, they'll really struggle to do so.
The Knicks will have to hope that someone values out-of-favour Toney Douglas a little more than they do—in which case a late first-rounder just about becomes a possibility.
Jerome Jordan and Landry Fields are others that could be used as trade fodder, but the latter will be a lot harder to trade as a restricted free agent following his rookie deal.
Which Need Will Be Addressed in the Draft?
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Even if the Knicks fail to acquire another draft pick, this deep draft will make sure that a lot of worthy talent will fall to the Knicks in the second round.
Since the draft takes place before free agency, the Knicks' selection could and should shape their activity in free agency.
If the Knicks go for a shooter like Kim English, they'd likely avoid going all-out for another in free agency, and instead they'll look for a point guard or a big man.
The same applies regardless of which need is filled in the draft.
Can Another Big Piece Be Convinced to Sign for the Mid-Level?
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What the Knicks need the most this offseason is to find a difference-maker in free agency who would be willing to sign for the mid-level (or mini mid-level) exception.
Rumours are flying around right now regarding a number of veteran players, including Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Ray Allen and Jason Terry—all of whom could make a big difference if brought to New York.
As nice as it is to picture these guys in blue and orange, the Knicks will face stiff competition for their signatures from a number of teams with much healthier cap situations.
Getting players like these to give up some salary to be here requires some sound work from Glen Grunwald, who'll have to convince these aging vets that New York is the best place to be if they want to win (another) ring before they retire.
Is a Major Trade Possible?
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Though there seems to be a lot of support for the idea of trading away the struggling Amar'e Stoudemire, the reality is that his grossly disproportionate salary will scare away most teams.
That said, we've seen some crazy trades take place in the NBA over the years, and some supposedly "untradable" contracts—like that of Rashard Lewis—have eventually been traded...twice.
As Alan Hahn writes on MSG.com, Glen Grunwald could try something a little more "creative" to make an impact trade, much like he did last year to bring in Tyson Chandler.
The likelihood is that nothing too major will go down in terms of trading, but at the very least, the Knicks should look into the idea.