Just another part of the confusion that is the New York Knicks these days is this: On the season, Amar'e Stoudemire is averaging only 11.1 minutes per game—22.7 below his career average. And according to a source close to the power forward, he could be playing up to double the minutes.
"The Knicks' medical staff OK'd him for 15 to 20 minutes per game. I don't know why it's not happening," the source said. "They might want to protect him for the playoffs; but this way, they're not going to make the playoffs."
Through Tuesday, the Knicks stood at 3-7, and it seems even worse than that—with trade rumors swirling, players calling out the overall effort and owner James Dolan even temporarily discontinuing the use of the team's dancers. There are also the injuries: Tyson Chandler's small non-displaced fracture of his right fibula, Metta World Peace's left knee soreness and Raymond Felton's left hamstring pain, which one source close to the point guard said is "pretty bad, but he's so tough that he's playing through it."
So the Knicks need to figure this out now: Should they consider lifting their restrictions on Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin's playing time with the hope that those players can provide more of a consistent contribution? Or if the team isn't willing to budge on those limits and wants to play it safe, do they need to make a trade for a younger and proven big man?
If it's the latter, the Boston Celtics might have a deal that could position the Knicks, both on and off the court, for future success—and it doesn't involve Rajon Rondo.
Let's explore further, but first a step back.
At this point, the Knicks have created a headache over Stoudemire and Martin's game-to-game playing status. According to a source close to the Knicks, Stoudemire's situation "absolutely makes no sense, especially because they don't have a big guy on the inside."
"Amar'e says he wants to play, so let him play through his injuries," the source said. "He's not giving you anything on the bench, so let the guy play—and if he gets hurt, he gets hurt. Everybody else plays through injuries."
As for Martin, he needs to be careful because of an injury-related clause in his contract, according to the source close to the Knicks. While the power forward has compensation protection for this season, he will lose it if his contract is terminated by not playing in 15 regular-season games due to arthritis, repair to his patellar tendon or progressive loss of articular cartilage.
Also on the roster is center Cole Aldrich, but he's not the answer and has played a grand total of 14 minutes all season.
That could leave the Knicks to look outside of the organization for answers.
There had been some speculation the Knicks would trade for Rondo, and even if that wasn't so unrealistic, it still wouldn't address New York's more pressing roster need in the interior. While they're getting beat on the perimeter, their defense against pick-and-roll roll men based on points per play (1.324) is worse—the highest amount allowed in the league, according to Synergy Sports.
But even if it's not Rondo, the Celtics are still attractive for the potential of a big man swap, and according to a source close to Gang Green, they might be willing to take on what basically no other team wants: Stoudemire's $21.7 million and $23.4 million salaries this season and next, respectively.
In that scenario, according to the source, the Knicks would acquire power forward/center Kris Humphries and small forward Gerald Wallace, while the Celtics would lose two massive salaries for one, Stoudemire, who the Celtics would have to retain only until 2015 (Wallace is through 2016). The Celtics also plan on "stinking in 2014-15 anyway," according to the source close to the team, so Stoudemire's financial presence wouldn't necessarily hurt them as they have plenty of salary-cap flexibility and can continue to add roster pieces.
On the Knicks' end, they've coveted Humphries since this past summer, and according to a source close to the player, if he was bought out by the Celtics—who landed him in the Brooklyn Nets' blockbuster deal—he would've signed with the Knicks as their fourth big man. But the buyout didn't happen because the Celtics weren't sure if rookie Vitor Faverani would pan out at the time, and the Knicks went on to re-sign Martin.
"He had an offer from (Mike) Woodson that if he got out of his deal with the Celtics, he would go and sign with the Knicks," the source said.
Now that Faverani is starting and playing well, and the Celtics are also playing productive rookie Kelly Olynyk over Humphries—as part of their youth movement—the former Net would "very much welcome a trade to a team that he would be more involved with," according to the source close to the player. And the two most desirable teams, according to the source, would be the Houston Rockets—Humphries is close with coach Kevin McHale, a fellow Minnesota native—and the Knicks.
"Kris would love to play in New York," the source said. "They wanted him at the beginning of the season and Woodson is a fan of his physical nature—the hard fouls, the offensive rebounds, that type of stuff."
An NBA scout complemented Humphries' play, saying, "He's a great rebounder, has a good NBA body and he plays hard. He's an upgrade over Amar'e right now."
While Chandler recovers, Humphries could start at center for the Knicks, alongside Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani. Then he could be Chandler's sub. Backup bigs are a dime a dozen, and Humphries fits that mold. He could also play some 4 to stretch the defense. He improved his shooting by working this past summer with Phil Weber, who has previously consulted with Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki on fine-tuning their outside touch. Another plus with Humphries is he doesn't have a lot of miles on his legs at 28 years old. He's only averaged 17.8 minutes per game over his career.
Beyond the court, there is a business benefit for the Knicks with having Humphries, who's in the final year of a $12 million contract.
But the key to the whole Knicks-Celtics negotiation is Wallace, who Boston is "desperate to trade," according to the source close to the Celtics. The source added, "That's the only way the Celtics take Amar'e." With the Celtics in rebuilding mode, they'd like to wipe Wallace's more than $10 million salary through 2016 off of their books.
While the Knicks would prefer not to have any hefty salaries entering the summer of 2015, Wallace's would potentially be the only one. Also, clearing Stoudemire and Humphries' earnings during this season would be key for next summer, when Anthony is set to become a free agent. It would give the Knicks flexibility to bring in some top young talent to surround Melo and further persuade him to stay.
Interestingly, according to a source familiar with the Knicks' previous free-agency plans, they and the Celtics actually explored trading Wallace, Humphries and Courtney Lee for Stoudemire and Shumpert over the offseason. Now that the Celtics envision Avery Bradley as their shooting guard for the future—"They like him at $6 million a year," the source close to the Celtics said—they don't have a need for Shumpert.
On the Knicks' end, they would also have to consider the current value of Wallace, who's starting to wear down a bit at 31 and after an injury-filled career that earned him the nickname "Crash." But in around 20 minutes per game, he'd be effective as a versatile inside-out defender, offensive rebounder, transition scorer and three-point shooter (47.1 percent this season). He could backup Anthony at times and share some minutes off the bench with Metta World Peace at the 4. In addition to evaluating Wallace's role, the Knicks would have to look into cutting a player because it would be a two-for-one deal.
Overall, Humphries might be the best bet for the Knicks. Earlier this month, the Knicks explored a trade for Kenneth Faried using Shumpert as bait—they're both in the same financial ballpark—but the Denver Nuggets were not touching their rising star.
Across the league, Phoenix Suns starting center Miles Plumlee, who's also around the same $1 milllion-plus salary as those two guys, could be the only other young big man candidate, but he hasn't proved himself over the long haul. In that scenario, the Knicks would not give up Shumpert, who is their best trade asset. Only Faried is really worthy of a trade, but that's not happening, so the Knicks might have to hold on to Shumpert for now.
Looking ahead, the Knicks first need to correct the issues that are going on internally—one of which is vocal leadership, especially to help Anthony.
"No one on the team can check him," one source close to the Knicks said. "He does what he wants. They don't have anyone like those veterans anymore," referring to Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace.
Another source added familiar with the inner workings of the team added: "Jason Kidd was a leader and he could tell Melo what's up. Now, no one does it. If you watch the games, every time down the court he demands the ball. He scored 45 points (against the Rockets), and they still lost. I mean, what else do you need to see?"
There's also the idea of reconfiguring the offense because the Knicks' point guards are struggling to make plays off of pick-and-rolls, especially with Felton not healthy and Chandler sidelined.
"My thing is, your point guard can't get you good shots off of dribble penetration, breaking down the defense, so guys like Carmelo don't have to work so hard," the NBA scout said. "Why not go out and change the offense to a lot of screens, curls, down screens, pin downs, staggered screens—stuff like that—which could help Carmelo. That way, he's moving with the ball more instead of standing in one spot.
"Allan Houston was successful at actually using screens—him, Rip Hamilton and Reggie Miller. Carmelo Anthony would be the best player in the league if he actually had multiple screens, where he could come off them and catch and shoot."
What the Knicks have less control over right now is their personnel and future financial outlook. But the Celtics present a rare open door to a potentially better future. Not only would Humphries be a solid big man addition to the Knicks this season, but his arrival would come with salary cap insurance in the short and long term.
"Exactly," the source close to the Celtics said.