The battle for the New York Knicks’ final roster spots and starting shooting guard position raged on into the second week of the preseason, although superstar Carmelo Anthony stole the headlines with comments about his future.
Carmelo Anthony will opt out of his contract
“I want to be a free agent,” Anthony tells me, as our cigars burn close to the nub. “I think everybody in the NBA dreams to be a free agent at least one time in their career. It’s like you have an evaluation period, you know. It’s like if I’m in the gym and I have all the coaches, all the owners, all the GMs come into the gym and just evaluate everything I do. So yes, I want that experience.”
The report confirmed what people around the league and within the Knicks organization had considered a foregone conclusion, via Al Iannazzone of Newsday.com.
The collective bargaining agreement is structured in such a way that Anthony can make more money by opting out of his contract and signing a new maximum-salary deal. As the star forward explained to the press after the story broke, his desire to become a free agent is not an indication that he intends to leave New York, via Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal.
Five months ago, the Knicks, and everyone else, knew Anthony would opt out after this season and become a free agent. ...— Al Iannazzone (@Al_Iannazzone) October 17, 2013
Mike Woodson made it clear that he expects his superstar back for the 2014-15 season, via Al Iannazzone of Newsday.com.
Melo: "Me leaving never crossed my mind. [Free agency] is just an experience I'd like to experience."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) October 17, 2013
Anthony has about 33 million reasons to re-sign with the Knicks. New York has his "Bird rights," which means it can offer him an extra year and more money per season than any other team ($129 million over five years, compared to $96 million over four.)
Woodson on Melo: "I don't see him leaving. That's just me."— Al Iannazzone (@Al_Iannazzone) October 17, 2013
Yet, there is reason for both sides to hesitate before agreeing to such a deal.
Anthony will be 34 years old when his current contract expires. Does he want to sign a five-year deal with a team that does not appear to have the pieces around him to win a championship?
Also, the Knicks have to ask themselves if it is a wise investment to make a one-way player, who is approaching his 30th birthday, the highest paid player in the league.
Starting shooting guard spot is still up for grabs
Mike Woodson caught Knicks fans off guard when he stated early in training camp that Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith would be competing for the starting shooting guard spot.
Smith excelled off the bench last season, taking home NBA Sixth Man of the Year honors. And Shumpert, the team’s best perimeter defender, appeared to have secured a spot in the starting lineup.
The open competition is particularly surprising given that Smith is recovering from offseason knee surgery and will have to serve a five-game suspension once healthy for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
His rehab is progressing nicely. He ran at practice for the first time on Tuesday, October 15, per Al Iannazzone of Newsday.com.
His goal is to be back for the Knicks' final preseason game so that his suspension can start at the beginning of the season, per Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com.
J.R. Smith is running in practice today, first time since the knee surgery. He won't do contact tho. #Knicks— Al Iannazzone (@Al_Iannazzone) October 15, 2013
Shumpert played well in two of the Knicks' three preseason games. He shot a perfect 7-of-7, including 3-of-3 from downtown, for 18 points against the Boston Celtics on October 9 and contributed 10 points, nine rebounds and three steals in 25 minutes against the Toronto Raptors on October 11.
JR Smith's goal is to be back in the final preseason game but he doesn't want to rush it. If JR plays then, the 5-gm ban starts immediately.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 15, 2013
Like the rest of the Knicks, he came out flat against the Celtics on October 12, scoring just six points on 2-of-9 shooting in 27 minutes.
Woodson has withheld praise for the young swingman, merely conceding that Shump has a "leg up" on Smith for the starting spot because he has been playing, per Al Iannazzone of Newsday.com.
Instead, the coach has focused on areas where Shumpert needs to improve—specifically, by not being overaggressive on defense and learning how to create with the ball in his hands, per Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com.
Woodson said Iman Shumpert will start Thursday against the Wizards, said he still has a leg up on JR at starting two since he's playing.— Al Iannazzone (@Al_Iannazzone) October 15, 2013
Mike Woodson said he'd like Iman Shumpert to "start being more solid and not so overaggressive (on defense) that he gets beat." #Knicks— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 14, 2013
Mike Woodson said he'd like Iman Shumpert to improve his P & R offense & to be able to run the offense w/the ball in his hands. #Knicks— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 14, 2013
No non-guaranteed invitees have seized the opportunity
The Knicks have 12 players signed to fully guaranteed contracts and eight training camp invitees fighting for the final three roster spots.
Woodson has hinted that he would like to keep one or two of the big men the Knicks have in camp, per Ian Begley.
Jeremy Tyler was considered a favorite to make the team after a strong showing at the Las Vegas Summer League, but the third-year power forward has been sidelined since September after undergoing surgery on his right foot.
Woody says he's comfortable w/what #Knicks have on perimeter. Made it sound as if they may keep 1 or more of the bigs on training camp deals— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 4, 2013
Veterans Josh Powell and Ike Diogu and center Cole Aldrich are also in the mix, though none of the three has consistently impressed the coaching staff during training camp.
Powell failed to make his presence felt in any of the Knicks' first three preseason games. Diogu took advantage of extended minutes against Boston on October 12, turning in 21 points and eight rebounds, but he did not do much in the first two preseason games.
Aldrich had a solid showing in the Knicks' first game against the Celtics, grabbing five rebounds and moving his feet well on defense against the pick-and-roll, but the third-year center was unable to sustain that productivity in the games that followed.
Woodson questioned Aldrich’s toughness after a lopsided loss to the Celtics on October 12, per Marc Berman of The New York Post.
J.R. Smith's brother Chris entered camp as a long shot to make the team and has not done anything to change his status. Undrafted rookie C.J. Leslie and swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts have also failed to distinguish themselves.
Woodson calls out center Cole Aldrich for not being tougher as former Kansas lottery pick's stock dropping http://t.co/ncWlzfJSfp— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) October 13, 2013
Guard Toure' Murry scored 16 points, grabbed four boards and dished out four assists in 31 minutes against the Celtics; however, like Diogu, he did little to impress in limited action during the first two preseason games. Murry is an excellent defender, but he is unlikely to make the team because of a glut of point guards and wing players on the roster.