Final Offseason Grade for the New York Knicks

John Dorn@JSDorn6Correspondent IIIOctober 25, 2012

Final Offseason Grade for the New York Knicks

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    The New York Knicks' most recent offseason was unpredictable to say the least. The Glen Grunwald and Mike Woodson administration made it clear that they're looking to shift the organization in a brand new direction, with not-so-brand-new players. 

    Only six men from last year's Knicks squad will be returning for the 2012-13 campaign. The team will be much more seasoned, though, thanks to the additions of vets Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace and others. 

    In doing so, they were forced to shed some of their young talent that propelled them to the playoffs in 2011-12. The most polarizing subtraction was Jeremy Lin, after a season that earned him a $25 million contract offer from the Houston Rockets—one the Knicks weren't willing to match.

    It was as busy a summer as the Knicks have had since their 2010 offseason pursuit of LeBron James. The team's moves certainly raised some eyebrows, but may have ultimately placed them in a much better position this season. Let's go though each significant roster change New York underwent this summer.

Letting Landry Fields Walk: A-

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    On July 4 it was first reported that Landry Fields and the Toronto Raptors agreed on a three-year deal worth almost $20 million (via ESPN New York). 

    This deal was interesting in that it was first agreed upon while the Knicks and Raptors were both in talks to sign Steve Nash. News was out that Glen Grunwald devised a master plan (via to attempt to acquire Nash from the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade. The deal would have moved Fields to Phoenix. 

    Maybe it was to block the Knicks' move, or maybe it was out of sheer interest in Fields. Whatever the case was, Raps GM Bryan Colangelo signed Fields, a restricted free agent, to an offer sheet of seemingly inflated numbers considering Fields' stat line last year (8.8 PPG, 2.6 APG and 4.2 RPG).

    The Knicks had a choice: match the ludicrous offer sheet and retain Fields, or let him free north of the border to join Toronto. Either case eliminated the former Stanford guard from being involved in a Nash deal.

    Ultimately, it was a great decision by Grunwald and the Knicks front office, even if it was a no-brainer. Fields displayed a promising rookie year, but regressed in nearly every category in 2011-12. 

    This preseason, Fields has averaged seven points per game through six games, and 4.3 rebounds as the Raptors' starting small forward. He's 1-of-6 from three, and 5-of-10 from the free throw line. 

    Not exactly prime performance from a starting forward, or a $20-million-dollar man, yet it's about what to expect from Fields, who is both. Chalk this one up as a loss for the Raptors, and a win for Grunwald and New York.

Re-Signing JR Smith: A-

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    JR Smith rejoined the NBA last February after spending the first half-season in China. He provided an electricity off the Knicks' bench during their late-season playoff push, and sank the Knicks most important shot of the season—a late three for the lead against Milwaukee when the two teams were essentially playing for one playoff spot. 

    He has a reputation as a wild, unpredictable player, so issuing out a large deal to Smith would've been a questionable move. Luckily, from a Knicks standpoint, that isn't how it played out.

    Smith did the Knicks a solid and re-upped on the cheap. His deal is worth $2.8 million for this season—the maximum the Knicks could offer him at the time—with a player option for next year that Smith will most likely decline (via ESPN New York).

    JR really helped Mike Woodson's Knicks out with this deal, as he sacrificed likely larger numbers from other teams in order to return to New York on essentially a one-year deal. After this season, the team will likely offer Smith a longer, more lucrative deal, assuming Smith shows maturity on-and-off-court.

    Smith allowed the team to sign him and still have a degree of flexibility cap-wise, which the rest of its offseason depended on.

    The move already seems to be paying off. Smith seems to have a matured mindset this season. "This year, I'm trying to be more conservative by not taking as many bad shots," he told the Wall Street Journal.

    "I know I can find my shot whenever I want to. But now I'm making sure we get the best shot for the team," he said.

    He has also prepared to put the team in a better position by remaining the Knicks' sixth man. There was speculation (via ESPN New York) that Smith would be in contention to start at shooting guard. 

    It appears as though Smith will give way to first-year Knick Ronnie Brewer for the starting job. Smith has been quoted as saying that he'd prefer to start, "But at the same time, you have to understand this is a team game and you have to put individual goals aside" (via ESPN New York).

    Smith already seems to be a different player, and at a bargain of $2.8 million.

    This preseason, Smith has battled a sore Achilles. He's played in one game against the Washington Wizards, and scored 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting. He also tallied six assists and four rebounds. Mike Woodson hopes Smith will return to practice by Friday, also according to Ian Begley of ESPN New York.

Trading Toney Douglas, Josh Harrellson and Jerome Jordan for Marcus Camby: B

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    On July 9, news broke that the Knicks and Rockets struck a deal involving veteran ex-Knick Marcus Camby (via the New York Times).

    In return for the center, the Knicks sent defamed point guard Toney Douglas, second-year man Josh Harrellson, Jerome Jordan, and two second-round picks to Houston.

    The 38-year-old Camby was signed to a three-year, $13.2 million contract.

    As far as what the Knicks sent, the only loss that caused a small uproar amongst fans was the loss of Harrellson. "Jorts" acted as a young anchor for the Knicks' post defense in limited minutes, and showed a knack for knocking down the corner three. The Rockets waived Harrellson and he signed with the Miami Heat later last summer.

    The addition of Camby certainly negates the loss of Harrellson, and then some, but there are a few issues with his signing.

    At 38, you have to question the reasoning behind his three-year contract. He's already battled injuries this preseason, and is currently sidelined with a strained calf. According to Newsdayit's not clear whether he'll be ready for the season opener. 

    If healthy, Camby is a great addition for the Knicks on the defensive side, strengthening the already-strong center position for New York, with reigning DPOY Tyson Chandler starting at the 5. 

    But that's a big if. It'll be all hands on deck for Camby and other Knicks vets this season.

Signing Jason Kidd to Three-Year Deal: C+

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    On July 5, CBS New York reported that, in surprising news, the Knicks signed Jason Kidd to a three-year deal worth $9 million.

    Before the deal was announced, speculation was that the team would sign two of Kidd, Raymond Felton, and Jeremy Lin. After the Kidd domino fell, chances of Lin returning diminished slightly.

    Adding Kidd to the equation in the Knicks' backcourt is a fine idea. Especially in a reserve role, as he adds mentoring ability for the team's young players, and is a threat from long-range. He places third on the all-time list of leaders in three-pointers made.

    Like Camby's situation, however, offering Kidd a contract that spans until he's 42 is a questionable call.

    This preseason, Kidd has played in five games and not accumulated more than seven points or five assists.

    In limited minutes, these aren't putrid numbers, but more will be needed from Kidd considering the long-term commitment the Knicks extended to him. He's shooting a terrible 26 percent and an awful 18 percent from behind the arc.

    It's shaping up to be a long three years for Kidd in a Knicks uniform.

Signing Steve Novak to Four-Year Deal: A

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    Glen Grunwald rewarded six-year journeyman Steve Novak with $15 million over four years (via theNew York Times), after Novak led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage.

    This move could prove to be the best of the offseason for New York. Novak was the most lethal long-range shooter the team had seen in decades, shooting 47 percent from downtown a season ago.

    This preseason, Novak hasn't shown any signs of demise. The 29-year-old scored 21 points, going 7-for-7 from three in the preseason opener versus Washington. He's made 12 three-pointers in the team's subsequent five games, and is averaging 12 points per game, bettering his 8.8 scoring average last season.

    At just over $4 million for the league's best pure shooter, Novak just may be the Knicks' biggest asset.

Trading Jared Jeffries and Dan Gadzuric for Ray Felton and Kurt Thomas: B+

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    The Knicks stirred up the pot of speculation on July 14, when reports surfaced—like this one from Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports—that they had a deal in place to bring former-Knick Raymond Felton back to the Garden. 

    The team also received 40-year-old former-Knick Kurt Thomas—continuing the veteran theme—and sent out Jared Jeffries, Dan Gadzuric, a second round pick, and the rights to Georgios Printezis and Kostas Papanikolaou.

    It was a steep price to pay, but the haul Grunwald got in return is beneficial for 2012-13.

    Thomas provides depth at a position with injury troubles, and Felton is returning to a home where he put up the best numbers of his career. In 54 games as a Knick in 2010-11, Felton averaged 17 points and nine assists, and brought out the best in Amar'e Stoudemire.

    The deal was immediately ridiculed due to the complication it created with the Jeremy Lin situation, but now that the dust has settled, it's turned out to be a great trade with New York's future in mind. 

    This preseason, Felton appears to be his old-Knicks self. He looks quick, fit and in shape, and has averaged 11 points and six assists in limited minutes. He'll be the Knicks starting point guard this season, but his reunion with Stoudemire is temporarily on hold, with STAT being sidelined for two to three weeks with a knee injury.

    If Felton continues to build a working chemistry with Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, he will be the Knicks' key to success this year.

Declining to Match Houston's Offer for Jeremy Lin: B

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    In what turned out to be one of the most surprising NBA twists of the summer, the Knicks let Jeremy Lin walk and sign with the Houston Rockets. 

    It was a wild turn of events. The Knicks were never thought to be willing to let Lin go, considering their owner's tendency to spend for better or worse. Not even the Houston Rockets believed they'd eventually end up with the player they'll be paying nearly $15 million to in 2014.

    "They told me when I signed there, 'We think it's an 80% to 95% [that the Knicks will match],'" Lin told GQ Magazine (h/t Hoops Rumors). "That was consistent with what everyone was saying to me."

    To make a long story short, news broke (like this one from the New York Post) early in free agency that Houston was preparing to offer a 4-year, $28.8 million offer sheet to Linsanity. The Knicks made what turned out to be a tragic error, in tipping their hand too early. Almost immediately, there were reports confirming that New York would match the offer, as it wasn't as "poisonous" of a poison pill they were expecting.

    After learning of the Knicks' intentions to match, Rockets' GM Daryl Morey may not have made the most ethical front office move, but he won Jeremy Lin by doing it. He re-wrote the offer sheet that the team originally agreed to with Lin during the free agent moratorium period. The offer sheet that was officially presented for Lin to sign was for three years, with a much more poisonous spike to a $14.8 million salary in year three.

    It's hard to believe that Knicks boss James Dolan felt Lin was too expensive, so that explanation is out the window. There's speculation that Dolan ultimately passed on the budding star simply because he "duped" the organization by accepting Morey's revised offer (even though it was the only official offer presented to him). 

    Judging by Lin's decreased minutes under Mike Woodson, and Carmelo Anthony's description of the offer as "ridiculous," there's also speculation that the team was eager to ship out Lin all along. 

    Whatever the case was, the fact is that the Knicks let a 23-year-old point guard walk away for nothing.

    On the surface, it sounds like a raw deal for New York. The team would be very good with Lin at the controls in 2012, but they're better off without him.

    Lin provided incredible highlights and almost single-handedly lifted the team back into the playoff race last season, but suffered a season-ending injury that was a crushing blow to the Knicks' chances. When he was healthy, Lin was a turnover machine, committing more than five turnovers in 13 of his 25 starts.

    Lin is on the fast track to success, but not fast enough to be the prime choice at the point for New York this year. And due to his steep price, letting Lin go will turn out to be for the best.

    He still has plenty of kinks to work out, and with the Knicks decidedly going with a win-now group, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni are more ready for the big moments than Lin would have been. Just look at Lin's 1-of-11 shooting performance against Miami last season as an example.

    In five starts this preseason for Houston, Lin has shot less than 20 percent in his first action since March knee surgery. He's averaged less than five points and 3.75 turnovers in 25 minutes.

    Lin may go on to earn that contract, just as easily as he may turn out to be a bust for the Rockets. And based on the crop that Glen Grunwald hauled in to replace him in the immediate future, letting Jeremy Lin walk isn't as peculiar a choice as it originally seemed.

    For fans of a team with severe point guard problems over much of the last two decades, letting go of a blossoming 23-year-old point guard was surely hard to swallow, but the success of this year's team should help ease that pain.

Signing Pablo Prigioni: B+

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    When the Knicks signed Pablo Prigioni last July, he became the oldest rookie the NBA has seen in 40 years, according to the New York Times. At 35, he contributes to Mike Woodson's ideal squad of seasoned veterans. This preseason, the Argentinian has averaged six points, six assists, and two steals in close to 25 minutes per game.

    He seems to have already established brilliant chemistry with his new teammates, and has put his passing game on display, highlighted by a behind-the-back pass to Henry Sims through traffic (via The Knicks Wall).

    Signed for under a half-million dollars this season, Pablo is invaluable to this year's squad. There will likely be times where he shares the backcourt with Jason Kidd, Ray Felton, or even both.

    Even when running the majority of his minutes with some players that won't be playing much in the NBA this season, Prigioni has managed to find open men for buckets. He and likely 15th man Chris Copeland have developed into a formidable pick-and-roll combination in six games this month. He very rarely looks for his own shot, but is reliable from beyond the arc.

    The team had been trying to lure in the point guard from Argentina for the past five seasons, according to ESPN New York.

    Against Brooklyn on Wednesday night, Prigioni scored five points but added 11 assists and three steals in 33 minutes. The Knicks were plus-11 when he was on the floor.

    The only potential knock on the import guard would be his age, but he hasn't done much to show any signs of wear-and-tear this exhibition season. 

Signing Ronnie Brewer: A

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    The Knicks picked Ronnie Brewer off the scrap heap towards the end of free agency, for the bargain of the veterans minimum. 

    Brewer battled through rehab after meniscus surgery earlier this offseason, but has finally returned to game action. He's played in two games, seeing major minutes against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night. He scored 12 points in 21 minutes, and made an impact on the defensive side of the floor, contributing three steals.

    Considering the cheap pricetag and the Knicks' need for a starting shooting guard at the time of his signing, adding an experienced, defensive-minded guard in Brewer was the best move Grunwald could have made. Brewer, who averages a career nine points per game, will look to make a difference on defense this season.

    Brewer has reached the Conference Finals twice in his six-year career, once each with the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls. He most recently played a prominent role on the Bulls defense, which topped all defensive squads in points allowed last season. 

    Since the Knicks are trying to become the type of team Chicago has been the last couple of years, adding the defensive anchor of the Bulls backcourt—for the minimum salary—is an excellent place to start.

Signing Rasheed Wallace: C+

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    Right when everybody thought Glen Grunwald and the Knicks had completed their offseason of signing veterans, they managed to gab headlines one last time by signing formerly retired Rasheed Wallace.

    Wallace is still in a conditioning stage, and didn't appear in a preseason game. Mike Woodson hasn't set a timetable for Wallace's return to game-action.

    Wallace cites his relationship with Woodson that dates back to the Detroit Pistons' championship year in 2003-04, when Wallace played for Detroit, as a reason he came out of retirement (via Newsday).

    The addition of Wallace is questionable, but doesn't really do much to hurt or help the on-court production this season. Sheed will essentially be another coach on the sideline, and play minimal minutes, if any, on a nightly basis.

    Wallace is simply the cherry on top of a sundae that is anything but sweet—Woodson's hand-crafted, tough, defensive-style Knicks team. 

    The flaw that ultimately did the Knicks in last season was the inability to perform under pressure. Glen Grunwald and Woodson went out of their way this offseason to ensure their roster will be filled with players who are no strangers to the big moment, like Wallace.

    Some could argue that Wallace is hogging the roster spot of a young player trying to make an NBA team, such as Mychel Thompson or Henry Sims, but the fact is that young projects simply don't fit into the Knicks' plans.

    Rasheed has been verbal on the Knicks' bench throughout the preseason, which definitely doesn't hurt, but it will likely be the extent of his contributions this season. 

Final Offseason Grade: B+

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    The Knicks have a set direction this year, after two straight failed playoff attempts in two seasons with essentially three different teams.

    Mike Woodson's team now has a decidedly experienced group of players. As compared to last year's 'Bockers, the 2012 Knicks ultimately will have a better shot at advancing in the postseason largely because of all the puzzle pieces fitting together a lot more smoothly.

    Woodson's half-court offense seems to fit Carmelo Anthony and other veterans better than Mike D'Antoni's "Seven Seconds or Less" version of speed ball that Jeremy Lin thrived under.

    Instead, Raymond Felton is at the helm of the offense, and Amar'e Stoudemire will be the first one to tell you that he's fit for the job.

    One issue to look out for, as with any veteran team, will be how healthy this bunch can stay. Ironically, however, it's been predominantly younger players who have fallen victim to injuries this preseason—JR Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and Ronnie Brewer.

    Overall, the Knicks got better this offseason, and that should be every general manager's summer goal. The offseason has finally come to a close, and we've done all the speculating we can do. Now it's finally time to watch some basketball.