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Projecting NY Knicks' 2013 Free-Agency Big Board

John DornCorrespondent IIIMarch 29, 2013

Projecting NY Knicks' 2013 Free-Agency Big Board

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    With the New York Knicks' regular season dwindling down, it's never too early to consider how to improve the team next season. The core of Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler is set for the near future, but the team employs several aging role players who might need to be replaced this summer.

    With rumors swirling of Jason Kidd's retirement and 35-year-old Pablo Prigioni no lock to return to the NBA next season, the Knicks could be in need of a point man. 

    Kenyon Martin, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby make up the team's frontcourt depth—and they're all over the age of 35. Only Camby is contracted with New York for next season.

    They don't have many glaring weaknesses—they already have more wins than any Knicks season since 2000-01—but getting better is always the goal. We'll discuss how Glen Grunwald and Co. should go about getting better this July.

Current Knicks

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    Unrestricted Free Agents

    The current Knicks whose deals expire at the end of the year are Kenyon Martin, Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace. The three big men will be unrestricted free agents as soon as the clock strikes midnight on July 1.

    It wouldn't be outrageous to expect 40-year-old Kurt Thomas to call it a career by then, especially after recent injury troubles.

    As for Wallace and Martin? It's anybody's guess. Wallace was productive in limited time this season, but after injuring himself in 20 games while averaging just 15 minutes per, we may have unfortunately seen the last of 'Sheed in an NBA uniform.

    Martin on the other hand looks as fresh as ever. He has filled in as starting center in Tyson Chandler's absence, averaging eight points and five boards and looking as bouncy and athletic as any player on the roster.

     

    Restricted Free Agents

    Chris Copeland and Pablo Prigioni are due for restricted free agency following 2012-13. Prigioni is 35 and may consider returning overseas after this season, but that's purely speculation at this point. He has been the Knicks' most consistent point guard to date, and the team would have some work to do should Prigioni leave for another NBA team or overseas.

    Copeland's case is interesting. He isn't receiving much burn under Mike Woodson, who tends to favor veterans. There's no doubt he can score the basketball—he averaged 20 points per 36 minutes—but every other facet of his game needs work. 

    It wouldn't be crazy for a younger team to take a flier on Cope, 29, to take on a heavier scoring role. The Knicks likely wouldn't match an expensive offer, considering the limited role he plays on the current squad.

     

    James White

    The second year of James White's contract is... well, it depends on who you ask.

    HoopsHype doesn't acknowledge that it exists at all. Basketball-Reference has it down as guaranteed. HoopsWorld tells us that it's non-guaranteed (now we're getting somewhere!), and finally ShamSports enlightens us with the following:

    James White: Signed a two year minimum salary contract in July 2012.

    Second year is fully unguaranteed, becoming fully guaranteed if not waived before June 30th 2013.

    Unfortunately, the Knicks didn't fill me in on the details when Flight signed his deal, so I don't know for sure. But ShamSports' side of the story sounds pretty accurate.

    Essentially, it's a team option that has to be picked up by June 30. The Knicks can either bring him back for a full, guaranteed season or cut him loose for free.

    White has filled in as a starter occasionally this season due to injuries, but his presence on the roster doesn't make much of an impact at all on the Knicks' plans. 

     

    Opt-Outs

    J.R. Smith did the Knicks' brass a solid last offseason when he returned on the cheap—his deal was for one year with a player option for a second and worth just under $6 million total. The second year was essentially insurance for Smith, and it's extremely, extremely, unlikely that Smith will opt into next season with the Knicks for less than $3 million.

    Smith is in the running for Sixth Man of the Year this season, his best to date. He's scoring 17 points per game to go along with five rebounds.

    After declining his player option, Smith would become an unrestricted free agent. Then it'll be up to the Knicks. Sure, they may like him as their first man off the bench, but another squad may like him as their starting shooting guard. 

    With all the money New York has tied up in its core trio, it's unlikely that the Knicks would tie up a ton of money into Smith—not even because of the wild inconsistency, just based on cost.

    If Smith wants to remain a Knick, it'll probably have to be on a much less luxurious deal than he would receive elsewhere. But if Smith wants to take his act on the road and shore up his finances while he can, no one would fault him for that, either.

The Financial Situation

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    Sign-and-Trades (Possibly)

    The Knicks are well over the salary cap this season, and over the luxury tax apron ($74 million) as well. But this may not be the case by the start of free agency.

    Sign-and-trade deals are available only to teams under the luxury tax apron (the apron is $4 million above the luxury tax threshold, which is currently slated at $70 million). 

    According to an interpretation of Larry Coon's CBA FAQ by Ben Ross over at TheKnicksWall.com, the Knicks may be able to get under the apron by July 1. 

    Using Sham Sports’ numbers once again, the Knicks next year have $73,831,215 million committed to the following eight players: Anthony, Camby, Chandler, Felton, Kidd, Novak, Shumpert and Stoudemire. Copeland and Prigioni are both fully unguaranteed and James White has a team option that needs to be determined before June 30th.

    As far as I can reason, the Knicks' $73.8 million puts them under the $74 million apron, thus enabling them to utilize sign-and-trade deals (sign-and-trades aren't permitted by teams above the apron starting in 2013-14).

    Getting under the apron, I think, would mean cutting loose Copeland, Prigioni and White. 

    The catch is that the Knicks must ensure that a sign-and-trade deal would not put them over the $74 million. No sign-and-trade is allowed that puts a team over the tax apron. So with the Knicks likely at $73.8 million, they'd almost have to ship out an equal dollar amount in any deal. Theoretically, they could bring in $168,175 in salary to put them at exactly $74 million.

    Also starting next offseason, making a sign-and-trade deal disables any team from using the taxpayer mid-level exception. It's one or the other, not both.

     

    Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception

    Which brings us to the taxpayer mid-level exception.

    The taxpayer MLE can be used by teams over the tax apron. It can also be used by teams that are marginally under the apron (like the Knicks could be), since using it would push them over the $74 million.

    The taxpayer MLE for 2013-14 has a maximum starting salary of $3.183 million with 4.5 percent raises each year. The maximum a player can be signed under it is three years, and it can be split up among as many signings the team chooses. The Knicks used this exception to sign Jason Kidd last July.

    This is the more traditional way for New York to win a free-agent prize this offseason. It doesn't involve any negotiating and finagling with other teams but rather a simple contract negotiation with a player. The downside is that $3.183 million is not an exorbitant amount of salary dollars, so netting a highly coveted piece with just the taxpayer MLE is unlikely.  

    For reference, the non-taxpayer MLE for 2013-14 will have a starting salary of $5.15 million with 4.5 percent raises, for a maximum of four years. It's only available to teams that would not be over the apron after using it. This does not apply to New York.

     

    Veteran's Minimums

    No matter the salary-cap situation, any team is permitted to sign a player to a veteran's minimum salary at any time as long as there is roster space. (Unless the team is hard-capped, which the Knicks won't be. So thankfully we don't have to get into that.)

    New York utilized these last offseason with the signings of Ronnie Brewer, Rasheed Wallace and James White and more recently with Kenyon Martin.

    Older veterans have shown that they'd be more inclined to sign this sort of deal with a championship-contending team in order to chase one last ring. The Knicks can bank on this strategy if all else fails.

Chris Paul

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    Let's get this out of the way first. 

    By now, we're all familiar with Chris Paul's infamous toast on Carmelo Anthony's wedding day in 2010. 

    “We’ll form our own Big Three,” Paul said, referring to the ultimate alignment of stars at the Garden between newly signed Amar'e Stoudemire, Anthony (who would be traded to the New York seven months later) and himself.

    Paul is now—at least temporarily—happy with the Los Angeles Clippers. He seems to get more comfortable with each tossed lob in a Staples Center that's seen a changing of the guard—a change that he's largely responsible for. 

    Only Paul knows exactly how meaningful his toast was at the 2010 reception, and after all, there's been a lot in the last 33 months to sway his view.

    In the previous slide, we discussed how the Knicks may utilize a sign-and-trade this summer if they so choose, and it would be their only method of finally landing Paul in Madison Square Garden since they're well over the cap.

    Assuming Paul will be receiving a maximum salary this offseason—if he doesn't, then I don't think anybody ever will again—I figure his 2013-14 salary to be, at the minimum, $18,668,431. This number is 105 percent of his current salary.

    So if the Knicks are receiving Paul and his $18.668 million in a deal, they can get away with shipping out roughly $18.5 million while keeping this trade legal. Now the Knicks and Clippers would have to agree on a package of Knicks players to be sent to Lob City that are worth the $18.5 million (roughly).

    The only way for the Knicks to get to this number would be by trading one of Anthony, Stoudemire or Chandler. Let's assume the Knicks aren't making 'Melo available in any deal. Let's also assume that Los Angeles would never take back Stoudemire's contract. Both seem like safe conclusions.

    This leaves Tyson Chandler as the main chip going back to LA. Chandler has good value but probably not to the Clips, who are paying DeAndre Jordan $43 million through 2015 to man the middle for them.

    Unless the Clippers plan on bumping Blake Griffin down to the 3 (sarcasm), this sign-and-trade doesn't have legs.

Jarrett Jack

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    Jarrett Jack did a good job of blending in during his first six NBA seasons. But over his last two, he's thrived as a starter and sixth man.

    Two seasons ago with the New Orleans Hornets, Jack took over at the point following the departure of Chris Paul. In a career-high 34 minutes per game, the Georgia Tech alum scored 16 points per contest to go along with six dimes and four rebounds. 

    Before the 2012-13 campaign, he was dealt to the Golden State Warriors to act as insurance for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in the backcourt. He's done just that plus more than the Dubs could have dreamed.

    He has averaged 13 points and six assists off the bench for Mark Jackson, but more importantly he has bettered his career .358 clip from beyond the arc with a .406 number this season.

    In Mike Woodson's various dual-point-guard lineups, Jack would be a tremendous addition thanks to his experience both on and off the ball. His newfound stroke from beyond the arc would only help his case.

    Jack could be best suited to fill the Knicks' starting point guard slot, which would bump Raymond Felton to the second team, repairing him with old friend Amar'e Stoudemire.

    It will be extremely difficult for the Knicks to chase Jack with just their taxpayer mid-level exception, so a sign-and-trade would be more likely. Agreeing on pieces to send over to Golden State would be problematic, since the two teams differ so dramatically in philosophies. 

    If the Knicks can find a way to dress Jack in a New York uniform by next October, their backcourt would be very tough to match up with over 48 minutes.

Timofey Mozgov

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    Knicks fans are already acquainted with Timofey Mozgov, and a New York reunion would do both parties well this summer.

    The 7'1" center began his NBA career with the pre-Carmelo Anthony Knicks in 2010. He was shipped for 'Melo to the Denver Nuggets in February 2011 and has progressively fallen out of the rotation as his Nugs stay has grown older.

    This season, he's appeared in 37 games, averaging just nine minutes per. The 26-year-old Russian import isn't happy about his depth chart burial, either. Here's a bit from a Yahoo! Sports Ball Don't Lie piece by Kelly Dwyer published in February.

    - It was reported that Miami and Minnesota have contacted the Nuggets about you. Did it really happen?

    - Yes, my agent told me about it. And I would go to Miami or Minneapolis gladly. On one condition only – that they would let me play. That the Heat are the main title contender this season didn’t matter to me at all. I am not going to sit on the bench even for a champion’s ring. To me, playing time is more important right now than any team results.

    With the Knicks, depending on Kenyon Martin's future, Mozgov could act as the reserve squad's center alongside Amar'e Stoudemire at the 4.

    He provides a raw but well-rounded game. The range on his jump shot extends to near the three-point line, and his gigantic frame is difficult to match up with anywhere. Per 36 minutes for his career, Moz averages 12 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.

    He's making about $3.1 million this season, so an MLE offer by New York would be around the same salary ballpark. The New York Post reported months ago that the Knicks will be eying Mozgov with that MLE this July.

Dorell Wright

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    With Carmelo Anthony at the 4, what the Knicks sorely lack is a viable option to start at the small forward. Dorell Wright has shown in the past to be this kind of player.

    At his best, Wright is knocking down three-pointers and stretching the floor for more ball-dominant teammates. With great size at 6'9", he also has an ability to get to the rim. He's averaged six rebounds per 36 minutes over his nine-year career.

    This season as a Philadelphia 76er, Wright is shooting 42 percent on corner threes, which would come in handy as a Knick. Mike Woodson prefers to stick his wing players in the corner to await open opportunities for threes.

    He's playing for $4.1 million this season and is an unrestricted free agent in July. A Knicks MLE offer would probably be on the low end of offers Wright could receive, but we're all aware how unpredictable things get in the basketball world once July 1 pops up.

Tony Allen

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    Think about Iman Shumpert.

    Imagine editing his attributes in 2K, taking away most of his offensive game and re-allocating those attribute points to improve his already-outstanding defense.

    Voilà! Now you have Tony Allen.

    Allen is 31 and will be entering his 10th NBA season in 2013-14, fitting Mike Woodson's veteran mold perfectly. He's currently playing for $3.3 million, slightly more than what the Knicks can offer with the MLE.

    It remains to be seen what his market value will be this summer. He'll be an unrestricted free agent after this year—his last of a three-year deal he signed with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2010.

    Allen is a very bad shooter. He's 3-of-23 from beyond the arc and shoots 27 percent from deep for his career. We're talking Ronnie Brewer bad. But Allen's defense along the perimeter is possibly the best you'll find in the league today.

    With the Knicks, there would be a few possibilities for Allen. He could start at the shooting guard, his natural spot, which would bump Iman Shumpert up to the small forward. Allen and Shump together pack more defensive talent than some teams do in the entire starting five, so this lineup would be a dream for Mike Woodson.

    Allen could also play as a reserve in the backcourt, ensuring that top-level defense is on the floor at all times (assuming Shumpert is in the starting lineup).

    Woodson is already a member of the Allen fan club. "I like what Tony Allen does," he said (via Sports Illustrated). "I'm sure players don't like him, in terms of how he gets after them. But it's part of the game."

    Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.

    Stats gathered from Basketball-Reference.

    Boatloads of information were used from Larry Coon's Salary Cap FAQ.

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