With a few needs going unaddressed over the offseason, the New York Knicks could rely on one training-camp invitee as an insurance policy this season. The team currently has 14 players signed for opening night, leaving one space available and up for grabs in camp.
To this point, the Knicks have 19 players set to participate in the Greenburgh camp, leaving them room to make one more potential signing. Teams are permitted to carry up to 20 players before opening night. The roster is then capped at 15.
In recent days, news has emerged that the 17th, 18th and 19th players on the bubble will be Josh Powell, Ike Diogu and Cole Aldrich—all sturdy big men and potential relief for Tyson Chandler (via Newsday and the New York Post).
As potential backcourt insurance, the team has also invited summer-league standout Toure’ Murry and Chris Smith, younger brother of J.R., for a look.
The Knicks will definitely look to add depth behind Chandler at center if at all possible. Chandler's playoff downfall last spring—he averaged just six points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes, while looking overpowered on defense—was a direct result of the team's lack of reserves behind him.
Last season's team planned on supplying Chandler with a wealth of reserves behind him, all with supreme veteran experience: Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby. Of course, none of the three played many minutes at all due to injuries. Kenyon Martin was brought on later in the season, but by then Chandler's body had already taken the toll.
He missed 16 games last year, mostly stemming from neck and knee problems suffered in March, accompanied with a sickness that forced him to lose significant weight. After the month of February, Chandler played in only 12 regular-season games and averaged roughly the same six-and-seven figures he did in the ensuing postseason.
The writing was on the wall. The team needed to find a suitable backup for Chandler, or the same downfall was bound to happen again.
Aldrich is an intriguing move, being a 2010 lottery pick. He's never made a mark in an NBA rotation, spending parts of seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings thereafter. His career per-36 numbers normalize to nine points, 10 boards and 2.4 blocks, albeit in a very small sample size.
Powell was a bench warmer on the back-to-back champion Los Angeles Lakers teams of a few seasons ago. The 30-year-old was last seen in the league with the Atlanta Hawks in 2010-11. Powell is a 6'9" power forward/undersized center with sound defensive and rebounding ability.
Diogu's game resembles Powell's. Like Powell, Diogu is 30 and was missing from the NBA last season, most recently playing with the San Antonio Spurs in 2011-12. He's an inch shorter than Powell but with a freakish 7'3" wingspan that's helped him grab nine boards per 36 minutes for his career—though he's only averaged 12 minutes over his seven NBA seasons.
After the summer league, the front office reached an agreement with promising center Jeremy Tyler, who played well on both ends in Las Vegas. Just weeks later, though, it was revealed that Tyler would need foot surgery. He could have to sit out until mid-November.
With this in mind, the team sought affordable, sizable talent to bring to camp. The Aldrich, Powell and Diogu invites serve as an effort to construct the deepest team possible, as the backcourt seems almost as full as one could get, with three point guards and three shooting guards.
The argument could be made, with Tyler playing on just a partially-guaranteed contract (ShamSports has his deal as only $100,000 guaranteed with no deadline date), to cut the young center. Such a move would free up a spot for a healthier camp invite like the three listed above. Besides, Mike Woodson may not have patience during the year for a 21-year-old who missed all of training camp.
But, remember, the Knicks are building for depth come March and April, not November and December. Waiting on Tyler, who appears to be a more appealing piece than any of the other fresh camp signees, would likely be the better move for New York.
If none of the larger-sized invites make any significant noise, New York has two options.
They could stand pat at 14 players, leaving the spot open for a midseason signing or a potential trade taking on another player.
Or they could turn to one of the two guards invited to camp: Murry and Smith.
If we're being realistic, Smith has a next-to-nothing chance of making any NBA team, let alone one competing for a top seed in the East. After two seasons at Louisville, and two invites to Knicks summer league, the Sixth Man of the Year kin has rarely impressed.
Keep in mind that J.R. Smith has, in consecutive offseasons, aided the Knicks' cap situation by signing team-friendly deals.
The Post has speculated what some fans have pondered, thinking that New York carrying Chris Smith for these trivial games and practices is merely an act of good faith towards the Smith family.
Smith has a better chance of playing for a D-League affiliate this season, so think of his New York stint as an audition for lesser organizations.
Murry, on the other hand, appeared close to NBA-ready when we last saw him with the Knicks in Vegas. He fielded recent camp invites from the Miami Heat, as well as New York, but decided on sticking with the team that first gave him a look last July (as per ESPN's Marc Stein).
Murry is a point guard with a raw but well-rounded offensive repertoire. His 6'5" frame and ideal athleticism translates to active and above-average defense—he was a frequent passing-lane hopper during his five-game stint out west. He averaged 7.6 points, 3.4 boards and 2.6 assists in 21 minutes during the summer league.
If the Knicks choose to pass on all their big-man invites, Murry would be a sound choice to round out the roster. The point guard position is stocked with three players 29 or older, but Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni and Beno Udrih all lack one key ability: consistent on-ball defense.
Opposing point guards crushed the Knicks last season. Often guarded by Felton, Prigioni or Jason Kidd, rival point men posted a PER near 18 against New York, according to 82games, and an eFG% of .513.
Murry's size and quickness could help deter tougher assignments at the 1, even if he's only relied on for spot minutes. Iman Shumpert could be asked to check tougher point guards this season, but signing Murry could help alleviate the nuisance of cross-matching on a frequent basis.
Murry is Wichita State's all-time leader in assists and steals. He played for the Shockers from the 2008-09 to 2011-12 seasons. Last year, with the D-League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the 23-year-old averaged eight points, three assists and 1.6 steals in 24 minutes. He posted a 46-percent shooting mark overall and a 36-percent clip from three-point range, both better than any mark he posted in college.
He saw extended minutes in the playoffs (35.8) over six games and posted averages of 14, five and five.
Who will make the Knicks' final roster?
If any of these camp invites make the team, there's no guarantee that they'd be suiting up for New York on a nightly basis. The active roster is limited to 13, leaving the final two men "suited up" on the end of the bench. I'm talking "Barney Stinson" suited up. Not "NBA gear" suited up.
This would likely be the case for any training camp hopeful—Chris Copeland is the exception, not the rule.
The Knicks' rotation is primarily set. At this stage, they're simply looking to tie any loose ends, which their camp invites could do at a minimal cost.
None of these players will single-handedly win New York an NBA title, but the level of concern management has over this final spot speaks to the importance of having a roster stockpiled with talent from spots No. 1 though 15.
Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.