Breaking Down How NY Knicks Must Approach Critical 2013 Offseason
The New York Knicks have never been shy to make noise in the offseason, but with little cap space and limited flexibility, it will be hard to make any major changes this summer.
After some crafty moves by Glen Grunwald, New York brought in nine new faces last season, most of whom worked out pretty well. As a result, the franchise isn't in a situation where it needs to completely overhaul the roster.
Instead, the Knicks simply need to make some incremental changes to add to the core they've built. Even at their level of committed future salary, there are plenty of options out there.
Though the second-round exit was disappointing, this was still a 54-win team last season, so addressing some areas of weakness could be the difference that makes this team a genuine title-contender.
If all goes to plan, there shouldn't be too many new additions, but the few players Grunwald and company bring in could have a major impact, so this is still a very critical offseason.
As it stands, New York has eight players under contract next season, with Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Iman Shumpert all on guaranteed deals.
For the most part, these are players that can help the team out, so it's likely that none of them will be cut, especially when you consider their respective salaries.
Collectively, these eight players add up to a combined $73.5 million in salary, which is way over the salary cap of $58 million and also over the luxury tax threshold of $70.3 million.
Starting this year, teams over the tax threshold will not be allowed to take part in sign-and-trades and will have their mid-level exception reduced from $5 million to $3 million.
This is particularly important for the Knicks, who used sign-and-trades to bring in Camby and Felton last summer.
Essentially, New York has seven roster spots to fill. Players like J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, Chris Copeland and Pablo Prigioni will likely be re-signed, and based on recent rumors, Chris Smith could be on the team, too.
That will leave New York with three more spots, which is perfect considering what they have to spend. They can pick up one player with their first-round draft pick, one for the $3 million taxpayers' exception and one for the veteran's minimum.
Depending on whether or not certain players re-sign, there could be more new faces, but after spending that $3 million New York will only be allowed to sign minimum salary deals.
Priority Number 1: Re-Signing J.R. Smith
Without a shadow of a doubt, the No. 1 priority for the Knicks this offseason has to be re-signing J.R. Smith.
Smith, who won the league's Sixth Man of the Year award in 2013, is way too important to let go of, and it would be near impossible for his production to be replaced with the resources New York has.
According to ESPN, Smith is expected not to pick up his player option for next season and will instead hit free agency, where there's a good chance that another team will offer him a contract the Knicks simply can't afford.
Luckily though, Smith seems intent on staying in New York, and it looks like he's prepared to sign a four-year deal to stay put.
In his exit interview, Smith told Newsday that he wants to retire with the Knicks, which would work out well for both parties.
New York has his early-Bird rights, which will let them offer him a contract starting at around $5 million per year and lasting a minimum of two years.
Based on that, with 7.5 percent increases each season, Smith's contract would work out at around four years, $22 million, which is an absolute bargain for a player of his talent.
Under the tutelage of Mike Woodson and Jason Kidd, this is a player with All-Star potential, and it can't be stressed enough how great a deal this would be for the Knicks.
Despite taking less money, this wouldn't be too bad for Smith either. He gets to stay in the city he loves, which just so happens to be a great place to make money off the court through lucrative endorsements.
The kicker to the deal is that it will probably involve the Knicks taking on J.R.'s brother Chris, although it's unclear at this point whether he'd be a camp invitee or a part of the full 15-man roster.
Other Potential Returning Free Agents
Beyond J.R. Smith, the Knicks have a bunch of other role players they'd love to have back, headlined by Kenyon Martin, Chris Copeland and Pablo Prigioni.
In his exit interview via knicksnow.com, Martin made it clear that he loved his time in New York and seems open to the idea of returning as a way of paying the franchise back for taking a chance on him midseason.
Using the non-Bird exception, the Knicks can offer Martin a maximum salary of around $1.7 million. He can probably make more on the open market, but the Knicks are free to offer him part of their $3 million taxpayers' exception to make a return more enticing.
Like Martin, Copeland also seemed keen on returning in his exit interview via knicksnow.com, telling reporters that loyalty means more to him than money. Cope went through a lot to get to the NBA, and he won't soon forget that this was the only team to give him an opportunity in the show.
Copeland is a restricted free agent, and as a second-year player can be offered a maximum of $1 million under the non-Bird exception. Because he wasn't drafted by the Knicks, however, he isn't bound by contract to return to the team like most rookies are.
Prigioni started for New York in the playoffs, but it's shaping up to be much more difficult to bring him back. According to the New York Post, he wants to return to the NBA but was disappointed with his salary last season.
Whether it means joining another NBA team or returning to Spain, Prigioni may want more than $1 million, which puts the Knicks in a difficult spot.
Sure, they'd love to have him back, but maybe not if they're forced to use part of the taxpayers' exception. It really depends on whether or not they'll be able to pick up another quality guard in the draft or free agency.
If Martin, Copeland and Prigioni receive significant offers from other teams in free agency, New York may be forced to use up the entire mid-level exception on bringing them back. That will make the offseason a lot tougher, but given that they all have major roles in the rotation, it may be worth it.
Outside of these four, there are no other pressing free agents New York needs to re-sign, but guys like Earl Barron and Quentin Richardson will be there as a last resort.
If they can bring back the aforementioned players, the Knicks' biggest needs will be some size and energy off the bench, More specifically, that means a defensive-minded, rebounding center, and a point guard who can penetrate and run the second unit.
On top of that, the Knicks could also use another shooter, but looking at the class of bigs in 2013, it makes sense to go after a center with the 24th overall pick.
Kansas' Jeff Withey and Lousville's Gorgui Dieng are both likely to fall to the area the Knicks are drafting, and either one would be a perfect fit.
New York's frontcourt struggled tremendously with injuries last season, but having a young body in there could make a world of difference.
Withey was the Co-National Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, and brings the qualities the Knicks are looking for. He can defend the rim, rebound and essentially take the pressure off Tyson Chandler.
Dieng is a little more raw, but he had the second longest reach in the combine and could become a dangerous shot-blocker.
Both players have decent offensive games, but the No. 1 priority is defense, which they both provide at a high level.
There is a chance that Withey and Dieng could be off the board by the time New York picks, in which case Lucas Nogueira from Brazil and Mike Muscala from Bucknell could be alternative options.
Free-Agency Options (Taxpayers' Mid-Level Exception)
Whether or not the Knicks will be able to spend their full $3 million mid-level exception or not depends entirely on how cheap they can re-sign their own free agents. With that said, if they can keep a hold of the majority of the exception, there are a lot of interesting options out there.
As noted on the previous slide, the Knicks need size, penetration and shooting, and $3 million could get them a player that brings at least two of those traits.
Looking at point guards, Nate Robinson is clearly the best backup option out on the free-agent market. He made the veteran's minimum last season, but after a fantastic postseason performance he could earn a lot more than that in the summer.
The Knicks (his former team) have a chance of signing him for $3 million, but the likelihood is that he can get a bigger offer elsewhere.
Outside of Robinson, Devin Harris, Will Bynum and D.J. Augustin are all viable options. They all provide penetration and have well-rounded skill sets, and may be willing to sign for $3 million to play in New York.
If the center position isn't addressed in the draft, Andray Blatche of the Brooklyn Nets should be the Knicks' primary target. He's already told the Daily News that he's not looking for a big check in the summer and is instead looking for an opportunity to "play and win." New York's more successful team could provide just that.
As a young, highly talented player, Blatche would make New York's bench ridiculously strong, but there may be an issue regarding playing time with Amar'e Stoudemire also on the roster.
The amnesty clause runs out this summer, and though the Knicks have already used theirs, it can still help them indirectly. A lot of good players are going to be released in an effort to save cap space, and could be signed for cheap as they'd still be being paid by their former teams.
That's the case with Blatche and Elton Brand, and could be for a host of other players by the time free agency rolls around.
Outside of these players, Mike Dunleavy, Matt Barnes, DeJuan Blair and, at a stretch, Timofey Mozgov, could be targeted by New York in this price range.
Free-Agency Options (Veteran's Minimum)
Just like last offseason, the Knicks are going to need to get creative with veteran's minimum contracts to fill out the roster.
Whether they use the mid-level exception on new additions or not, one or two of their needs will need to be filled on the cheap.
New York is an attractive location, especially after earning the second seed in the Eastern Conference, so it won't be impossible to find talent with the minimum salary.
Sebastian Telfair is a New York native, and though he's struggled to live up to expectations in the NBA, he would be a nice fit behind Raymond Felton as the Knicks' backup point guard.
He's much more athletic than Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni, and would give the second unit the same penetration that Felton provides the starters with.
Elsewhere, Keyon Dooling and Jamaal Tinsley are two other rotation-quality point guards who could be had for the vet's minimum.
Considering the injury situation last year, the Knicks would be wise to fit as many bigs as possible on the roster, with Zaza Pachulia, Ronny Turiaf, Jason Maxiell, Ryan Hollins and Jason Collins all hitting the free-agent market.
They aren't as old as the Knicks' frontcourt was last year, and can provide solid minutes on both ends of the floor.
Last, and probably least considering the lack of flexibility, New York could theoretically try to add to the team by trading away some of their less important assets.
There have been rumors about a potential move to Chris Paul, but such a trade would require the Knicks to cut around $5 million in salary, convince CP3 to take less money and find a way to get the LA Clippers to agree to an undesirable deal from their point of view. Put simply, it's not going to happen.
Instead, New York will probably look to trade role players, but again, this will be tough to do. Marcus Camby and Amar'e Stoudemire are virtually untradeable, and everyone else is too important to let go.
The one exception to that is Steve Novak, who barely played in the postseason. He'll only be a minor part of the team if Chris Copeland is re-signed, but as an elite shooter could have value to another team.
Novak is down for $3.75 million next season, which is enough salary to bring back a good rotation player in return, as long as the other team is prepared to pay that much for a one-dimensional player.
There were rumors at the trade deadline that Iman Shumpert could be on the way out, but looking at the way he closed out the season, that would be a huge mistake. Shumpert has an unlimited ceiling and is already one of the league's best defenders. He also has a rapidly improving offensive game.
Improving from Within
Though it may not be the most exciting thing to hear, this offseason is more about improving from within than making major signings or trades.
Let's not forget that this is a team that finished second in the Eastern Conference last season and is still very talented despite their playoff disappointment.
The reasons New York lost in the playoffs were more due to tactics, attitudes and injuries than anything else, and that simply won't be fixed by making personnel moves.
New York just needs to spend the summer working on chemistry and other areas of weakness, and with a few new additions they should be able to improve ahead of the 2013-14 campaign.
Players like Iman Shumpert, Chris Copeland and J.R. Smith are only going to get better, and if they all reach their potential the Knicks will automatically be much stronger.
If they can pick up some size, a solid point guard and a talented player in the draft, Knicks fans should be happy with the offseason. Chris Paul isn't the be all and end all.