The New York Knicks have an opening. Or two.
Unlike most title contenders, the Knicks don't explore depths of the unknown searching for bodies to take up space on the bench. Players they sign are typically used at some point. Injuries and age always seem to catch up with them, forcing their hand and willing essential no-names into the rotation (a la Chris Copeland and Jeremy Lin).
Next season could see more of the same. There are currently 12 players operating under guaranteed contracts in New York. Two more players—C.J. Leslie and Jeremy Tyler—are signed to partially guaranteed deals, so the Knicks also have the option of adding just one. Or none.
Tyler's foot injury all but assures us New York will add at least one more player. Be it a 15th man or pair of new faces at the expense of Leslie or Tyler (or both), its roster is not yet complete.
How many training-camp invitees will stick leading into the regular season? Options abound as the Knicks look to fill out what they hope will be one of the deepest dockets in the NBA.
Ike Diogu, F, Non-Guaranteed Deal
Tyler was initially supposed to provide the necessary insurance up front until he was forced to undergo surgery on his right foot. With him out for 8-10 weeks—and his roster spot now in jeopardy—New York elected to bring in another low-post-oriented player.
At 6'8", Diogu is undersized at both the 4 and 5 spots, but his 7'4" wingspan makes up for most of that deficit. He was drafted ninth overall in 2005 by the Golden State Warriors and has spent bits and pieces of six seasons on six different teams.
Coming into the NBA, Diogu was valued for his interior offense in addition to those long arms of his. His footwork resembled that of player much lighter than a 250-something pound forward, and the 22.6 points and 9.8 rebounds per game he averaged during his final season at Arizona State had scouts foaming at the mouth.
Diogu has never averaged more than seven points and 3.4 rebounds at the NBA level, though. Playing time has proved less than scarce since coming out of college. The 14.9 minutes he logged per game as a rookie still stand as his career high, and he's been out of the Association entirely since 2012.
His track record makes him a long shot to make New York's roster, but the 16.6 points and 10.4 rebounds he averaged in the CBA last season make him difficult to ignore. The Knicks already have two interior stoppers in Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler, so an offensively conscious big who can also rebound is a top priority.
Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani can both create their own offense on the block, but neither has appeared in more than 49 games the last two seasons. Bargs also tends to live on the perimeter while STAT figures to be on a minutes cap for the rest of his career.
Even so, Diogu's lack of size is working against him. New York has developed a knack for turning failed prospects (Lin, Copeland) into solid rotation players, but right now it needs sheer size that Diogu's wingspan just can't feign.
Prediction: Released Before Season
Josh Powell, F, Non-Guaranteed Deal
Watching Ricky Davis put on a Knicks uniform would have been fun. I imagine J.R. Smith would have toasted his arrival with Jell-O shots and one of those vodka-cascading fountains. But with Tyler out, the Knicks are short on size, not unapologetic triple-double seekers who could double as Swish's Saturday night wingman.
So New York signed Josh Powell to a non-guaranteed contract instead, according to Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling.
Source: Josh Powell has taken a non-guaranteed training camp deal with #Knicks. Strong, athletic, good rebounder. Good size with Tyler out.— Jared Zwerling (@JaredZwerling) September 21, 2013
Powell has an inch on Diogu, but his wingspan was measured at just 7'1". Still, he's just as talented a rebounder, more limber and his offensive game is headlined by a nice mid-range jumper. Teams like the Knicks are built to spread the floor, so range is a hot commodity in power forwards.
Like Diogu, Powell hasn't appeared in a regular-season game for more than a year—more than two years, to be exact. He last spent time the Atlanta Hawks in 2010-11. Before that, he played for five different teams over five seasons.
Tyler's injury gives Powell a real shot at making the roster. The Knicks need insurance for those times when the ever-fragile Stoudemire and aging Martin aren't able to play. Powell's size, coupled with his athleticism, make him a strong candidate to fill voids as a rebounder and situational scorer.
Prediction: Makes Roster
Cole Aldrich, C, Non-Guaranteed Deal
Joining the training-camp ranks is the 6'11" Cole Aldrich. The Knicks announced they had inked the center to a deal that the New York Post's Marc Berman says isn't guaranteed.
Cole Aldrich is interesting name as former lottery pick but it's non-guaranteed deal. Just like Ike and Powell.— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) September 24, 2013
As a former lottery pick, Aldrich is one of the more intriguing roster prospects. New Orleans drafted him 11th overall in 2010, and he's played for three different teams—the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Sacramento Kings—over the past three years.
Aldrich hasn't even come close to living up to his draft status. He's known for his role as a filler in the James Harden trade more than anything else.
Through three seasons he's averaging two points and 2.3 rebounds in 7.9 minutes per game. While he runs the floor well for someone his size, he has virtually no touch on the offensive end. Knee problems have also plagued him since coming out of Kansas, contributing to his unimpressive beginnings.
#Knicks announce signing of Cole Aldrich. Was working out for the team last week and Monday. Question is knees; always has been since draft.— Jared Zwerling (@JaredZwerling) September 24, 2013
Protecting the rim, however, remains a strength of his. In his 7.9 minutes of action, he's averaging 0.5 blocks, or 2.4 per 36 minutes. Neither Martin nor Chandler are acclaimed shot-blockers, and Stoudemire's defense is often nonexistent. Bringing in a shot-swatting specialist could serve New York's defensive attack well.
Looking at the Knicks' roster, though, Aldrich doesn't fit the bill of what they're looking for. His size alone demands they give him a shot, but the Knicks can ill afford to house another one-dimensional big with health problems.
If New York decides to add two more members to their frontcourt, Aldrich could see himself make the cut. Assuming the Knicks only take one, Powell is the better two-way option.
Prediction: Released Before Season
Toure Murry, G, Non-Guaranteed Deal
Smith's injury has opened the door for the Knicks to add another another wing. If Mike Woodson isn't confident in playing Tim Hardaway Jr. extensively right away and Leslie fails to turn heads, Toure Murry has a legitimate shot at joining the Knickerbockers.
Undrafted out of Wichita State, he spent some time in the D-League last season. Through four games he averaged 8.8 points, 2.5 assists and 2.5 steals in 17.3 minutes.
Murry also played five games for the Knicks in Las Vegas this past summer, during which he notched 7.6 points, 2.6 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 20.8 minutes a night. New York subsequently jumped at the opportunity to pencil him in for training camp, per ESPN New York's Ian Begley, beating out the Miami Heat for his (non-guaranteed) services.
At 6'5", he is long enough to defend shooting guards or small forwards, but his keen sense of court vision also allows him to run structured offensive sets. Lack of offensive range is a killer, though. He shot just 31.1 percent from deep in college and is unable to space the floor the way swingmen are expected to.
Knowing how reliant the Knicks were—and will continue to be—on the three-point shot, Murry will have to really shine in other areas if he wants to snag a roster spot.
Prediction: Makes Roster
Chris Smith, G, Non-Guaranteed Deal
Chris Smith's older brother and resident chucker, J.R., is helping his sibling's roster case in more ways than one.
For starters, it never hurts to have connections. The elder Smith is fiercely loyal to the Knicks and his family, and the organization could take on the younger guard out of good will alone.
Then there's Smith's left knee injury. He underwent surgery in July after re-signing with the Knicks and was expected to miss 12-16 weeks. Depending on how much time he may or may not miss, New York could find it has a need for another scorer in the interim.
Which player is most likely to make New York's roster?
Not helping Smith's case was his Summer League performance. At times he proved he could be an effective distributor, but only briefly. He left Las Vegas with averages 5.2 points, 1.4 assists and two rebounds per game.
The Knicks also don't have a clear need for a point guard. A three-man rotation of Beno Udrih, Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni should be more than enough. And if it's an additional playmaker the Knicks crave, they're better off rolling with Murry. He's bigger, a better defender and had more success as a floor general over the summer than Smith.
Looks like the Smith family reunion will be restricted to off-court festivities only.
Prediction: Released Before Season
There is room for at least one additional player in New York, but bet on the Knicks bringing in two. Tyler's injury essentially creates a second opening, and Leslie's always-questionable work ethic could open up a third.
If the Knicks free up the space necessary to house a second (or third) additional player, the smart money is on Murry. His ability to defend the 2 but play point guard makes him a better backcourt candidate than anyone else they're currently looking at.
Were only one training-camp invitee to stick, it would be Powell. As a power forward with range who can also rebound, he's what the Knicks need most.
Fit him for an orange and blue jersey now.