The New York Knicks are in the unfavorable position this summer of having several holes to fill throughout the roster but severely limited resources to fill them. They face a few decisions regarding their own players and many more involving potential external reinforcements.
With new reports and speculation emerging seemingly by the minute, early July can perhaps be the most difficult time to keep track of NBA happenings. Below, we'll try to sort out all rumors pertaining to the Knicks and how they can make an impact in 2013-14.
Their Own Free Agents
The Knicks' first move of the offseason seems to be the re-signing of Sixth Man of the Year-winner J.R. Smith, first reported by Frank Isola of the Daily News. Howard Beck of The New York Times soon swooped in with the details, reporting that Smith will receive roughly the maximum of what the team was able to offer him: a four-year deal worth about $24.5 million.
The fourth year is a player option, per Isola.
Bringing Smith back may not have been the best deal for New York, and possibly not the most financially lucrative offer for Smith. It was, however, the only realistic way the team could've added a bona fide scorer for next season. With only the mini mid-level exceptions ($3 million per year for three years) and veteran's minimum contracts to offer, New York will be among the bottom feeders in the free-agent market.
Since Smith has called New York his home for the last two seasons, the Knicks owned his Early Bird rights, and were therefore permitted to exceed the salary cap to sign him. Offering four years to a player as volatile as Smith may not be the safest decision—especially since the team is doing its best to make a free-agency splash in 2015.
But the Knicks' hands were tied here. They needed to bring Smith back, and they did so—at a relative bargain.
News broke Thursday afternoon, via Jared Zwerling of ESPN New York, that restricted free agent Pablo Prigioni will return to the Big Apple to build on a successful rookie year. The new contract is for three years—only the first two being guaranteed—and around $6 million, according to Al Iannazzone of Newsday.
Upon being inserted into the starting lineup last season on March 18, Prigioni gave the Knicks immediate value. In the final 18 games of the season, he shot 52 percent from the field, including 47 perfect from beyond the arc in 21 minutes per game. The team's ball movement was at its best when Prigioni was on the court. The Knicks' most efficient lineup was one with the 35-year-old rookie running the point.
The argument could be made that Prigioni was New York most consistent point guard in 2012-13. Bringing him back for another season (or two) should have been the team's first priority this summer, and management got a deal done at an incredible value.
New York did have to dip into it's mini MLE funds for the Prigioni deal, so only a portion of it remains to sign other free agents.
#Knicks bumped Prigioni deal to starting at $1.5M of MLE, the agent reports. That is up from $1.2M. Leaving $1.7M left to shop.— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) July 4, 2013
Zwerling of ESPN New York suspects—not reports, but speculates—that the Knicks would like to use the remaining $1.75 million on their other restricted free agent, Chris Copeland.
As expected #Knicks use part of exception to sign Prigioni, leaving about $1.75 million available. Team would likely like to use it on Cope.— Jared Zwerling (@JaredZwerling) July 4, 2013
Copeland's market value isn't really known just yet, but Zwerling points out that the forward has received interest from a handful of teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, Cleveland Cavaliers, while Zwerling and Chris Broussard also report that the Milwaukee Bucks have shown interest. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Indiana Pacers have made overtures, an interest confirmed by Ian Begley of ESPN New York, who also reported that the Denver Nuggets have reached out to Copeland, as well.
Copeland is already an above-average scorer after just one NBA campaign—he scored 20 points per 36 minutes and shot 42 percent from distance—but he may have played himself out of New York's price range. Copeland has in the past turned down lucrative offers from overseas teams in order to fulfill his NBA ambitions, so we'll see just how comfortable MSG really was to the 29-year-old.
For what it's worth, here's what Copeland told Michael Scotto of RealGM and the SNY Nets blog:
Chris Copeland tells me, "Reports that I'm absolutely out of New York (Knicks) are absolutely false."— Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) July 4, 2013
Kenyon Martin sprung from his couch last February to help the Knicks win the Atlantic Division months later. The 35-year-old impressed in a surprisingly meaningful role, posting averages of 7.2 points and 5.3 boards on 60 percent shooting.
He filled in at the center position in Tyson Chandler's absence late in the regular season, and provided the team with a boost heading into the postseason.
According to Chris Broussard, the Knicks are just one of the teams interested in K-Mart. A tweet Wednesday night revealed that along with New York, the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs are interested in adding the big man, and Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets are exploring the possibility of a second go-round with the player.
Teams interested in Kenyon Martin: Lakers, Clippers, Spurs, Knicks, Nets, source says— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 3, 2013
Martin undoubtedly provided the Knicks with an unexpected lift last year, and they're in the market for a big. But the team is certainly not in a position to throw dollars around, especially to the 35-and-older crowd. Expect New York general manager Glen Grunwald to offer another vet's minimum deal to Martin, but should he demand anything more, he's more than likely a goner.
The Knicks have yet to reach any agreements with players who were on other teams last year, but plenty of people have tweeted about reported "interest."
Elton Brand seems to be the name the Knicks are most serious about, according to ESPN. The Knicks are in need of a rebounder, and Brand averaged 10 boards per 36 minutes last season with the Dallas Mavericks. The team would prefer the 34-year-old Brand to Kenyon Martin, according to the New York Post, but the most they can offer is the $1.75 million that's left of the MLE.
Last season, Brand's minutes dipped below 28 minutes per game for the first time in his career. Though his role shrank, his performance didn't. His 21.5 Defensive Rebounding Percentage (DRB%) was the second-highest mark of his career, and he also posted the third-lowest individual defensive efficiency (DRtg) of his career with Dallas.
Marc Berman of the Post also reports that the Knicks have "inquired" about Lamar Odom and Brandan Wright.
New York's offense last season was at its best with two point guards on the floor, so its reported interest in the position seems reasonable. Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas reported that the Knicks are among the teams interested in Jose Calderon. Berman of the Post has linked New York to Will Bynum, Devin Harris, Aaron Brooks, Earl Watson, and most recently Sebastian Telfair—to whom, Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld says, the Knicks have spoken directly.
The Knicks continue to pursue Sebastian Telfair, according to sources. Not only did they reach out to his camp, they spoke to him directly.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 4, 2013
So along with point guards and bigs, the Knicks also have a need for a taller wing who can guard 2s and 3s and knock down the three. New York is desperate for two-way players, something they have very few of on their roster—Iman Shumpert may be the only Knick that's above average on both ends of the court.
With Steve Novak being sent to the Toronto Raptors in the controversial Andrea Bargnani trade, head coach Mike Woodson also needs a floor spacer. Without a true threat from three-point range, Carmelo Anthony is going to have a lot of trouble driving into a clogged lane—Novak and Copeland helped eliminate this issue last season.
Berman reported Tuesday that Matt Barnes and Francisco Garcia are two options for New York, who both seem to fit the bill. With only $1.75 million of the MLE left, and minimum-salary contracts, the Knicks have their work cut out for them.
Carlos Delfino is also on the team's radar, according to ESPN, and would be a great bargain at the Knicks' asking price.
It's incredibly hard to get a feel for how the Knicks will look come November. After the trade with Toronto, it appears that either Amar'e Stoudemire or Bargnani will need to start at power forward— those two on the same second unit would be a defensive nightmare—bumping Anthony back down to the 3, where he was less productive last season (via 82games).
Where will the Knicks finish in the East next season?
Anthony at small forward would bump Shumpert back down to his natural shooting-guard position, but it would also kill any hopes for a dual-point guard starting lineup. Of the Knicks' 54 wins in 2013, 38 came in games with two of their three point guards—Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Prigioni—in the starting five.
So as of right now, the backcourt is jammed. The frountcourt is jammed. Yet the Knicks have major holes to fill, with only minimal-salary contracts to patch them up.
Not a very desirable spot for the reigning Atlantic Division champs.
Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.