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New York Knicks: Choosing Pablo Prigioni over Chris Copeland Was a Mistake

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New York Knicks: Choosing Pablo Prigioni over Chris Copeland Was a Mistake
USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks have not always made great basketball decisions. But this past season, I forgot all about the Isiah Thomas era and how awful the team’s front office had been for past decade.

Those recollections of inadequacy were replaced with a hopeful outlook toward the future of the franchise. That is due to the fantastic decisions that New York made prior to, and during, the 2013 season.

Chris Copeland and Pablo Prigioni, both rookies last season, came to the team with a combined age of 63 and no NBA experience (although both had years of experience overseas). Both players greatly exceeded expectations and came alive late in the season—Prigioni earned a spot in the starting lineup for 18 games and Copeland put up 15 points per game in April.

When the season was over, Copeland and Prigioni were both restricted free agents and wanted to come back to New York. In the end, the Knicks could only keep one of the two—Prigioni will be back next season, but not Copeland.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Jared Zwerling of ESPN New York discussed the details of Copeland's new deal and why he'll be a member of the Indiana Pacers next season.

The offer is for two years, $6.12 million guaranteed -- $3 million in 2013-14 and $3.12 million the following season. A team option was discussed for a third season, but both sides agreed against it.

The overall financials mean the Knicks will not be able to match because they only have about $1.7 million available for a 2013-14 salary -- a slice of their $3.18 million mini mid-level exception. The other portion went to Pablo Prigioni.

The Knicks didn't make an offer to Copeland, instead waiting on him to test the open market. The 29-year-old forward, who wrapped up his rookie season in New York, initially was interested in returning. He even expressed to ESPNNewYork.com that it was a tough decision to sign the offer sheet, tipping his hat to the Knicks organization and especially its fans.

While Copeland had made it known that he would take less money to re-sign with New York, the team essentially chose Prigioni over him.

And that was a bad move.

Copeland told Alan Hahn on ESPN Radio that the plan was to take less money and come back to the Knicks. The team, however, made no further push after their initial qualifying offer which was just short of $1 million.

Prigioni is great—he’s energetic, enthusiastic and fans love him. But Copeland is a better player and would’ve brought a lot more to the Knicks next season.

First off, Copeland is about seven years younger than Prigioni. Basically every player on the Knicks’ roster last season was hit with an injury of some sort and missed time because of it—except for Copeland and J.R. Smith.

Secondly, the Knicks need scoring. The team’s offense next season can’t be “give the ball to Carmelo Anthony and get out of the way,” which is exactly what it became in the playoffs.

Copeland gave New York consistent production all season in 2013 that correlated directly to how many minutes he was given—per 36 minutes, he put up 20.3 points per game (via Basketball Reference).

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

When Prigioni checks in, there is no question that the ball moves much more fluidly and there is more intensity on the defensive end. But Copeland looked like a breakout star in the latter parts of the season—he impressed the Pacers so much in the second round of the playoffs that they were the ones who pushed the hardest for him this offseason.

I’m taking nothing away from Prigioni—the Knicks are going to need him next season, especially after the retirement of Jason Kidd. Prigioni is a really good player, but Copeland simply has more upside at this stage of his career and had the potential to blossom into a scoring machine off the bench in New York.

Choosing Prigioni over Copeland wasn’t exactly a catastrophic move—Prigioni is still a solid player—but it could be one that could come back and haunt the Knicks, especially if the 36-year-old point guard faces injury trouble.

While New York deserves endless credit for discovering and developing both of these diamonds-in-the-rough, it’s a shame that they couldn’t end up keeping both of them.

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